By Michael D. Evans
Election 2012 isn’t just another presidential election. With the rise of the Tea Party over the past three years and its rapid takeover of the Republican Party, the positive future direction of our country is at risk in a way that has not been the case for generations. And with a presidential candidate who has neither the guts nor the ethics to challenge this lunatic fringe, the Republicans have said “no way” to any hope of a positive American future. When hate, stupidity and fear-mongering become a party’s practicing mantra, our greatest concern becomes that party’s possible success.
But this election is about far more than the presidential race. The Tea Party’s influence has extended to a war on women and a war on all working Americans. The Citizens United decision said that democracy was about money rather than people. And in California, there is an effort via Prop 32 to expand that philosophy by even denying people who pool their resources—for example, organized labor—from having any influence on the political process. The Los Angeles Times has called the deceptively penned Prop 32 “a fraud to end all frauds.”
Coming to the rescue of California’s fiscal crisis is Prop 30. It doesn’t solve California’s budgetary problems, but it stops the hemorrhaging. That may not seem like an enthusiastic selling point, but the layoffs and cuts to education if Prop 30 should fail would devastate an already-threadbare educational infrastructure. When we look at our declining educational outcomes relative to the balance of the industrialized world, our focus should be on radically expanding resources. Prop 30 is an important step forward, albeit a baby step.
Locally, all of the Board of Supervisors races and most of the Fresno City Council races were decided in the June primary. This, of course, means that an embarrassingly small number of registered voters decided those elections. But the content of these bodies is critical as we are already hearing both bodies complain of budget woes and the need to address their respective budget crises by privatizing some public services. The Board of Supervisors has even put forward Measure O, which would make it easier to privatize by requiring only a simple majority rather than a four-fifths majority. This measure must be stopped.
It is unlikely that either of the candidates in the remaining City Council race (District 2) opposes privatization, but voters can certainly use their leverage to try and move those candidates to a better place.
Some of the most competitive local races could well be those for education boards. In the often ignored State Center Community College District Board of Trustees, the complexion of the board could change significantly with four races—one open seat and three challenges to incumbents. A longtime leader in Fresno’s progressive community, Kevin Hall (see sidebar), is challenging incumbent Richard Caglia. One of Hall’s primary concerns is the “rainy day fund” that the district has accrued but seems not to want to touch even though that rainy day is obviously here. Our community colleges have been severely affected by cuts in education funding, and new leadership is needed to develop creative solutions for ensuring that we fulfill the promise to our youth of access to K-14 education.
Despite many recent high-profile stories about the Fresno Unified School District and its Board of Trustees, and efforts by the teachers union, the Fresno Teachers Association, to challenge the board’s status quo, the open seat vacated by Larry Moore appears to be the only seriously competitive race. Three community leaders—Luis Chavez, Esmeralda Diaz and Daren Miller—are vying for that seat.
A critical education item is Measure B, which would extend the 1/8 percent sales tax to fund public libraries. The current measure will expire in 2013 if not extended by the voters. This initiative funds more than 50% of the library’s budget.
The key to passing measures that can move our community forward and electing candidates who can effect constructive change is voter turnout. And therein lies our historical problem.
Based on recent analysis by Gary Lasky, a Fresno-based data consultant, it is apparent that much work will be required to ensure high turnout. Lasky defined progressives loosely as being anyone registered Democrat, Green or Peace and Freedom, and he looked at precincts that had 70% or more of such voters. Of 31 such precincts in the city of Fresno, all had a drop in turnout from the November 2010 election to the June 2012 Primary of at least 57% with some as high as 69%.
Now all election followers know that some falloff is to be expected in primary elections. But gaps of this size could be an indicator of lackluster interest in this year’s election or general apathy that could extend to the general election. Given the stakes this year, staying at home simply is not a viable option. That is why voter education and get-out-the-vote efforts are essential.
A number of grassroots efforts are under way to provide that education and to get out the vote. These include Communities for a New California (CNC; contact: Sabina González-Eraña, 559-394-8752, email@example.com), which is prioritizing passage of Prop 30 and defeating Prop 32;Groundworks/Alliance for a Better California (contact: Simone Whalen-Rhodes, 559-978-4504, firstname.lastname@example.org), which is focused on No on 32; and the Fresno County Democratic Party (contact: Brandon Sisk, 559-495-0606, email@example.com), which is working the Battleground California program for No on 32, Yes on 30 and supporting local Congressional candidates (Rep. Jim Costa in Congressional District 16, John Hernandez in District 21 and Otto Lee in District 22) and, of course, President Barack Obama.
When the returns come in on Election Night, Nov. 6, we want to go to sleep knowing that we did all we could to turn back the various threats to democracy outlined herein. And we must work hard every day until then to make sure our shut-eye that night is peaceful.
Remember, too, that the election is not the end of our work. Once we have good people in office, we must hold them accountable. And we must push for immediate, extensive and progressive change. And in California, specifically, we must reform the initiative process such that it is no longer dominated by monied interests and returns the task of governance to our legislature.
Michael D. Evans is a political activist, editor and writer. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.