Copyright © 2012 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved
It seems that every election gets described — especially by progressive Democrats arguing with their Leftist friends that there really is a difference between the two major political parties in the U.S. and therefore it does matter quite profoundly which one holds the Presidency and both houses of Congress — as “the most important election in our lifetimes.” But the 2012 election actually comes close to meriting that description. Since 2000, when Zenger’s endorsed Ralph Nader for President over George W. Bush and Al Gore, the difference between the Democratic and Republican parties has widened from a hairline crack into a chasm — and, unfortunately, that hasn’t been because the Democrats have become more progressive.
No, it’s because the Republicans have become so outrageously Right-wing that the word “conservative” — originally a political philosophy that respected tradition and was wary of large-scale social change — has long since ceased to be an accurate description of them. Under the guise of “fixing” the national debt, the Republican Party of today wants to get rid of Social Security, Medicare, unemployment insurance and just about any attempt by government to protect working people and long-term unemployed people from the full force of “The Market.” It wants to end virtually all government controls on business greed and environmental destruction. It wants to — and is perilously close to — destroying what’s left of America’s labor movement.
It seeks a society in which women, people of color, Queers or anybody who believes in a religion other than Right-wing Christianity are consigned to permanent second-class citizenship. And abroad it, like the Inner Party in George Orwell’s 1984, seeks a state of permanent warfare in which, as Orwell put it, “War is a way of shattering to pieces, or pouring into the stratosphere, or sinking in the depths of the sea, materials which might otherwise be used to make the masses too comfortable, and hence, in the long run, too intelligent.”
If you don’t believe me, listen to talk radio and watch Fox News. There you’ll hear Republican spokespeople and ideologues who, like Marx’s Communists, disdain to conceal their aims. They talk about “the Constitution” the way the Taliban talk about the Koran, eliminating everything in it that safeguards the rights of ordinary people and exalting those parts of our founding document that were designed to keep wealth and income in the hands of the rich. They also refer to the Constitution as “divinely inspired” — which would evoke horse-laughs among the Deists who actually wrote it — and as assuming that America is a “Christian nation” and all other faiths are here only because the Christian Right chooses to tolerate them.
And look at the way Republicans have actually acted, both in the U.S. House of Representatives and in states like Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio and Maine, in which they gained complete control of government in 2010. They immediately used it to deny public workers the right to organize (they’ve already essentially destroyed unions in the private sector and only labor’s success in organizing public workers has kept the U.S. union movement from complete extinction), to destroy environmental protections, to attack the civil rights of women (including freedom from workplace discrimination as well as reproductive choice) and Queers and to disenfranchise young voters, people of color and anyone else less likely to vote Republican.
When Scott Walker, Wisconsin’s Republican governor, was facing a recall election — which, like the California primary, will take place June 5 — he not only defended his successful denial of public-sector workers to organize. He also pushed through the Republican-dominated Wisconsin legislature laws virtually destroying the right of women to sue for sex discrimination in the workplace and eliminating the right of Queer people to visit their partners in the hospital. This mobilization of the radical religious Right to support his anti-labor Libertarian agenda seems to have worked; once those bills went through, Walker went from dead-even in the polls against his Democratic opponent to 6 to 9 points ahead.
In 2012, we face a unified, ideologically coherent Republican party which is determined to wipe out all the gains working people, women, people of color, Queer people and anyone who isn’t rich made in the 20th century. Republicans used to uphold the 1950’s as the “golden decade” to which they wanted to return America — a time when women were still in the kitchen, Blacks still at the back of the bus and Queers still in the closet — until they realized that it was also the time when a greater percentage of the American workforce (32 percent; today it’s 12 percent and shrinking) belonged to unions than at any time in our history, before or since.
Now the radical Right, both its “Christian” wing and the Libertarian crazies of the Tea Party, want to take us back even further — to the 1880’s, when the U.S. Supreme Court perverted the 14th Amendment and first perpetrated the insanity that corporations are “people.” They long for the day when minimum-wage laws and health and safety regulations in the workplace were thrown out by the courts as interfering with the “freedom” of workers to accept lower wages and more dangerous workplaces. Some Tea Partiers want not only to abolish the income tax but take away from voters the right to elect U.S. Senators and give that back to the state legislatures, which in practice was a virtual invitation to bribery and corruption.
And not only do they have this foul vision of America, they are within one election victory of bringing it about. If Mitt Romney wins the 2012 Presidential election and the Republicans gain a majority in the Senate and keep the House, they will enact just about every item on their wish list. Congressmember Paul Ryan’s budget, which abolishes Medicare as we know it and calls for draconian cuts to education, food stamps, transportation infrastructure, health care for the poor and virtually everything the government does except defense — and offers huge tax cuts for the rich — will almost certainly become law.
The Republicans are proposing as sweeping a change in American government, and its relationship to the people, as the one Adolf Hitler brought the German people when he took power in 1933. And though they’re not proposing to round up their political adversaries and ship them to death camps, their social priorities — especially securing corporate power and building the military-industrial complex — are similar. So are the ways in which they sell their program to the people, through an unending series of scapegoats — in Hitler’s case, Jews, Communists, Gypsies and Queers; in the modern-day Republicans’ case, “illegal” immigrants, people of color, so-called “feminazis,” environmentalists, Occupy protesters and, yes, Queers.
I’m not saying President Obama has been a beau ideal of progressivism: he has not. I’m not saying he has done everything in his power to advance the social causes he claimed to support when he ran for President in 2008: he has not. Part of the fault has been ours, not his; while the Tea Party organized grass-roots rallies against Obama just months after he took office, progressives waited nearly three years before beginning the Occupy movement. Therefore, unlike Franklin Roosevelt and John Kennedy, Obama hasn’t had to deal with pressure from the streets to move him Leftward and counteract the Democratic party’s corporate and rich-individual funders pushing him Rightward.
But I am saying that electing Obama and voting for every Democrat on the ballot against every Republican is the only way to keep the Republicans from taking total control of the U.S. government and enacting their hard-Right agenda. Leftists used to say the choice for the future was between “socialism or barbarism”; today, with the words “socialist,” “communist” and even “liberal” so totally beyond the political pale in this country they are routinely used as conversation-stopping insults, our regrettable choice at the moment is between the Democrats, with all their faults, and barbarism.

Mayor of San Diego: BOB FILNER

The race for mayor of San Diego has got to be one of the weirdest in history — especially for those who thought that openly Queer candidates would generally be more progressive than non-Queer opponents. In this case the Queer candidates — district attorney Bonnie Dumanis (whose war on medical marijuana was enough to persuade us not to endorse her for anything again) and the unspeakably evil City Councilmember Carl DeMaio, whose made his name as Darth Vader with city workers in the cross-hairs of his Death Star — are on the Right.
Assemblymember Nathan Fletcher has won a lot of progressive support he really doesn’t deserve simply by leaving the Republican party and declaring himself an independent. He’s still a Republican, and the only possible reason to vote for him is he doesn’t hate city workers quite as much as Carl DeMaio does — though he’s still supporting the upper-class class warfare pension “reform” initiative, Proposition B.
Bob Filner has been a true progressive for 50 years: a supporter of civil rights since he put himself at risk on the Freedom Rides to challenge racial segregation on interstate transportation in the early 1960’s, and a school board member, a City Councilmember and for the last 20 years a Congressmember who co-organized the Progressive Caucus in the House of Representatives and has been not only a reliable but an enthusiastic vote in support of progressive causes. He’s the only chance we have to elect a mayor who will fight corporate giveaways and treat city workers with the respect they deserve.

State Proposition 28 (Revising Term Limits): YES
State Proposition 29 (Cigarette Taxes/Cancer Research): YES

Zenger’s has consistently opposed term limits on elected officials as one of the dumbest ideas of all time. In the private sector, experience is valued; in the public sector — at least those jobs covered by term limits — it is scorned. Once upon a time, the California state legislature was hailed as one of the most effective in the country; today it’s damned as one of the worst — and while that’s not entirely the fault of term limits, they haven’t helped.
Term limits supporters on both the Right and the Left have the insane delusion that they will create a new breed of “citizen legislators” who will do politics for a while and then go back to their regular careers. What they’ve actually produced is newbie legislators who don’t know their jobs — and who get termed out just as they’ve started to learn them — and who play a game of musical chairs trying to get to the next rung on the political ladder. Term-limited legislators tend to be more beholden to corporate lobbyists, not less, not only because lobbyists are the ones with the institutional memories but because once they’re termed out of office, they’re going to want to find work …and it’s the corporate lobbyists that have the power and the money to offer it to them.
We’d enthusiastically support a measure to get rid of term limits on the California state legislature (and every other office on which they’ve been imposed) once and for all. Alas, the mythology surrounding term limits has been so effectively sold to a gullible public that such an initiative wouldn’t stand a chance. What Proposition 28 does is lower the total length of time a state legislator can serve from 14 years to 12 but allow all that time to be spent in the same house of the legislature — thereby at least allowing them to gain experience (and learn how to legislate) on one side or the other of the state capitol.
Proposition 29 was a harder sell: we generally oppose ballot-box budgeting —initiatives that create new revenue streams for government (or sometimes don’t, which is even more irresponsible) but specify what can and can’t be done with them. This initiative raises the tax on cigarettes and uses it to fund cancer research. The tobacco companies have spent big-time to put the usual deceptive ads against it, but the measure does fit in with the model California has adopted to deal with tobacco (and which should be applied at both federal and state levels to other drugs as well!): allow it to be sold, tax the hell out of it and use the tax money to pay for the social damage it causes. On balance, it’s a yes.

San Diego Proposition A (Banning Living-Wage Agreements): NO
San Diego Proposition B (Destroying City Workers’ Pensions): NO

One of the undoubted propaganda triumphs of the Right in San Diego has been to blame the city’s economic woes not on the real culprits — the multi-millionaire land developers, sports-team owners and other individual and corporate deep pockets who’ve won huge giveaways from the city and its taxpayers, and the at best feckless and at worst corrupt politicians who’ve given them — but on city workers. Over and over, using Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels’ strategy of the Big Lie and its constant repetition, we’ve heard the lies that the city got sunk into near-bankruptcy by its workers and especially its pensioners. Now the perpetrators of this propaganda are striking while anti-labor sentiment in San Diego is at its highest since the free-speech fights of 100 years ago — when the local newspaper organized vigilantes to kidnap, beat and drive out of town labor organizers — for two measures which will basically abolish workers’ rights in San Diego.
Proposition A is a ban on so-called “Project Labor Agreements” in city contracting, so that instead of being able to demand that companies that build for the city pay their workers living wages and allow them to organize, the city will have to grant contracts to the lowest bidders — even if those bids are based on paying sub-minimum wages to undocumented (so-called “illegal”) immigrants. Proposition B is essentially the destruction of the city workers’ pension system; it doesn’t affect current retirees (mainly because the courts say it can’t) but it puts new city workers on a 401(k)-like system — so they end up with as much retirement security as their brethren and sistren in the private sector. Actually they end up with less, because in the 1970’s San Diego city workers voted themselves out of Social Security in exchange for lifetime health coverage — a promise the city has already reneged on.
A lot of people are going to vote for these measures, especially Proposition B, because with the appalling lack of solidarity typical of America’s working class, instead of asking why they don’t get as good pensions as people in the public sector, they instead ask, “Why should they be any better off than we are?” It’s time we declared these propositions to be what they are — a product of the 1 percent’s continuing class war against the 99 percent — and reject them resoundingly.

United States Senator: DIANNE FEINSTEIN

There are going to be a number of endorsements in this column of not especially progressive Democrats who are nonetheless worlds better than any likely Republican opponents. Dianne Feinstein — whom I’ve blown hot and cold on ever since her rise in the San Francisco Bay Area in the 1970’s — is one of them.

House of Representatives:
District 49: DICK EIDEN
District 50: DAVID SECOR
District 52: LORI SALDAÑA
District 53: SUSAN DAVIS

We’re making an exception to our rule of only endorsing Democrats in District 49, currently represented by slimeball Republican Darrell Issa — who’s probably launched more crass, politically motivated “investigations” than anyone in either house of Congress since Joe McCarthy. In case you’ve forgotten, he was the one who called a hearing on protecting the “religious freedom” of churches to deny their employees health coverage for birth control and didn’t allow any women to speak. The Democrat in the race is a nobody; Dick Eiden, a longtime Green Party member who’s running under the open primary rules as “nonpartisan,” is a veteran community activist and Issa’s genuinely serious opponent.
In District 50, with no progressive alternative, Democrat David Secor is the only serious opponent to the Duncan Hunter Congressional monarchy (after nearly three decades in office, Hunter Sr. — who’s now organized an anti-Obama super-PAC calling for even more defense spending than the Defense Department wants — turned his seat over to his son, and the sheep-like Republican voters of his district ratified it).
District 51 is Bob Filner’s old seat, now being coveted by one of the biggest Right-wing slimeballs in the Democratic Party: Juan Vargas, who’s anti-choice, anti-Queer and so far in bed with the Roman Catholic Church that when he spoke on marriage to the San Diego Democrats for Equality he seemed to be saying the government shouldn’t be involved in marrying people at all. So who’s the best alternative? The only progressive choices are Denise Ducheny, an experienced state legislator with a problematic record on some issues but a solid record of support for the Queer community; and John Brooks, a political newcomer who’s clearly intelligent and capable, but is frankly in over his head as a campaigner and would be in even farther over his head as a Congressmember.
In District 52, the choice is even more clear-cut: DINO (Democrat In Name Only) Scott Peters or genuine progressive Lori Saldaña. It’s amazing that Peters has won the endorsement of organized labor and the San Diego Democrats for Equality, and the co-endorsement of Progressive Democrats for America, when his whole record in office as a San Diego City Councilmember was sucking up to the 1 percent.
Susan Davis is someone we’ve blown hot and cold over, and her support of continued funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (with the lame excuse that once the war started we needed to “support the troops”) and her votes for job-destroying “free trade” agreements are worrisome. But she’s been a solid vote for women’s rights and she did — after a lot of coaxing — take a leading role in repealing the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy and allowing Queers to serve openly in the U.S. military.

State Senate, District 39: MARTY BLOCK

There were more progressive alternatives in the Democratic primary when Block first ran, but he’s been good and he deserves re-election — especially against cookie-cutter Republican opponent George Plescia.

State Assembly:
District 78: TONI ATKINS
District 80: BEN HUESO

Despite the promise of the redistricting reform initiative to produce more competitive districts, there are still all too many “dead-goat districts” — ones so biased towards one major party or the other that a dead goat could get elected as long as it had the right party letter after its name — which is why we’re not endorsing in District 75 (only one Democrat running) or 76 (no Democrats at all). In District 77 we’re endorsing a Democrat against three Republicans and hoping for the best.
In District 78 we have a rematch of the 2010 race between openly Lesbian Democrat Toni Atkins and openly Gay Republican Ralph Denney — who’s a nice guy but basically Carl DeMaio in sloppier clothes.
We look at the District 79 field and wonder why things like this happen — two excellent African-American Democrats, either of whom we’d feel proud to support, plus a capable white male Democrat all running against each other. All things being equal, though, we’re going with Pat Washington, not only because she’s openly Queer but she’s an aggressive defender of women’s rights and a seasoned community activist.
We’ve never endorsed Ben Hueso before — as a City Councilmember he came perilously close to DINOhood — but it’s between him and a Republican.

San Diego City Council:

District 3: TODD GLORIA

One of the most baneful results of term limits is that frequently incumbents run not only without serious opposition but without any opposition. Potential challengers figure, “Why bother to run this time? S/he will be termed out in four years anyway.” Two of the five City Council districts up for election this year — Districts 3 and 5 — have only one candidate: Gloria in 3 and Carl DeMaio’s hand-picked successor, Mark Kersey, in 5.
Sherri Lightner is yet another Democrat on the ballot who hasn’t always lived up to progressive ideals but is still far better than her Republican opponent, Ray Ellis, would be. Todd Gloria hasn’t always been that progressive, either, but he’s been better than we expected when we endorsed his opponent, Stephen Whitburn, in 2008. Mat Kostrinsky is a reasonable Democrat in a tough (for progressives) district.
Marti Emerald has pretty much taken over from Donna Frye as the one “out” progressive on the current City Council — she was the only Councilmember who wanted the City Council to  pass resolutions endorsing the right of public employees to organize and bargain collectively, and supporting Occupy San Diego during its occupation of Civic Center (“Freedom”) Plaza — and she deserves re-election.

San Diego City Attorney: COLIN PARENT (write-in)

At last — at the very last minute — a write-in candidate surfaced to take on incumbent city attorney Jan Goldsmith and his (he’s the Boy Named Jan) jihad against medical-marijuana users, Occupy protesters and the Equality Nine. Go to the trouble and vote for him!

San Diego County Supervisor:

District 2: RUDY REYES
District 3: DAVE ROBERTS

While supporting Rudy Reyes — who was badly burned in the 2003 wildfires, became a medical marijuana user to deal with the pain and has courageously resisted the county’s outrageous war on medical cannabis and the people who need it — is basically a protest vote, Dave Roberts is a serious, well-backed challenger to incumbent Republican Pam Slater-Price and deserves to win.

San Diego County Board of Education:

District 2: LYN NEYLON

Want the chance to vote for someone who’s actually appeared at Occupy San Diego events and aggressively campaigned for workers’ rights? Well, besides Lori Saldaña for Congress, there’s teachers’ union leader Gregg Robinson for district 1 of the San Diego County Board of Education. Lyn Neylon has a similar background, and though she’s been less publicly prominent than Robinson she’s still a good choice against long-term incumbent Jerry Rindone.

San Diego Unified School District:


We’re joining the San Diego Democrats for Equality in endorsing two strong incumbents, Evans and Barrera, who have coped well with the insane cutbacks they’ve had to impose because of reductions in state funding of education. We’re parting company with them in District E because Ponder’s opponent, Marne Foster, responded to their question on marriage equality with a statement of faith as a Christian and a belief in “love that encompasses all” — talk which all too often leads to anti-Queer “love the sinner, hate the sin” rhetoric — and because Ponder, despite his troublesome support for the failed initiative to add non-elected members to the school board, seemed a much more reasonable and capable candidate.

Superior Court Judge:


We feel a little odd about endorsing in judicial races because judges shouldn’t have to be elected at all. This is one issue the framers of the U.S. Constitution got right; the only way to ensure that judges have the independence they need to follow the law instead of political pressures (coming largely from corporations and the well-funded radical Right) is to give them lifetime tenure and make them safe from removal except for gross misconduct. But as long as we have judicial elections, we need to vote in them, and these are good people supported by the San Diego Democrats for Equality (they endorsed Roberts and Schaefer and gave an “acceptable” rating to the Republican Peed, whose opponent is a radical-Right activist with the incredibly appropriate name of Gary Kreep).