By Eva Posner & Linda Perine
Relationships and money trails tell us who wields the power in our community.
It is hard to imagine, that in the 5th largest county in the United States, only a handful of people have any real influence on the day to day decisions that effect the lives of over 3 million people. But it’s true. And a lack of voter participation isn’t helping.
In both the February 2014 election to replace Bob Filner as Mayor of San Diego and in the June primary voter turnout was abysmally low. Overall voting turnout in the County in June was an anemic 27.2%, but many precincts registered in the single digits.
Pundits and analysts give many reasons for the lack of engagement: voter fatigue, uninspiring candidates, disillusionment surrounding the Filner debacle, and the lack of a culture of voting in areas with a large immigrant influence. We are told that working two (maybe three) jobs with transportation issues, childcare and other deterrents make it difficult to get to the polls. And indeed, all these causes had some influence on the undeniable “none of the above” message from the electorate.
But we think low propensity voters are saying something other than “it’s too hard”. (Particularly when vote by mail is an option.) We think it is something far more alarming: People don’t vote because they believe it simply does not matter who gets elected. They are not uninformed, culturally challenged civic slackers. They are realistic, maybe fatalistic, graduates of a school of particularly hard knocks.
It is way past time that we as people who believe in a government of, by and for the people acknowledge that we have a problem that is not going to be resolved by get out the vote platitudes and self-affirming mantras based in wishful thinking.
Our democracy is badly broken, nationally and right here at home in San Diego.
We all know it. We can sense it. We can see the symptoms of our sickly system. And we are tired of it. But instead of shrugging it off, we at the Democratic Woman’s Club want to start a robust, critical, and well-past-due conversation on how to fix it.
Step one in solving a problem is admitting you have one. Check.
Step two is a lot more complicated, and often painful. You have to identify the problem. Describe it. Find the root causes. In order to fight, you have to know your enemy.
There’s a story in San Diego that hasn’t been told. It’s one of abuse of power and a lack of accountability that has drowned out the voice of the people. It’s the story of a shadow government– one that you don’t get to vote for—that makes decisions every day that affect you, your family, and your community. It’s a story of leaders who put their personal ambitions over the interests of the people they represent. It’s a story that should make all county residents very angry.
This matters. It matters because the power of our democracy has been handed to a select few who do not have our interests at heart. More importantly, it matters because we can fix this, and return the power where it belongs: with us.
“Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.” Political observers and writers from around the county have joined forces with Democratic Woman’s Club of San Diego County to start asking some tough questions about “Who Runs San Diego?”
Who are the people who make the decisions for the rest of us? How do they make their money? How do they take our money? Who are the winners and losers? And how do we level the playing field?
Here is a preview of the different segments we will cover:
Media– The fourth branch of government. The bridge between you and your community. These people should be holding leaders accountable and giving you the information you need to make decisions in your daily life. There aren’t very many media outlets in San Diego County. Many, if not most of them, are owned by a very small number of people. Do you see how this could be a problem?
Republican Surrogates– You don’t hear much out of the San Diego County Republican Party. Most of the right’s political direction and funding come from surrogates like the Lincoln Club, Chamber of Commerce, and San Diego County Taxpayers Association. It will be interesting to explore the relationships between these organizations, their donors, and the leadership of our government.
Tourism– Tourism is one of the three leading economic drivers in San Diego. This creates some problems, among them a preponderance of low-income jobs, a focus on appearance vs. reality, the use of public funds for private gain. There are extraordinarily large expenditures of taxpayer dollars that may not benefit the taxpayers as much as it benefits sports franchises and hotel owners. It’s your money. Aren’t you just a little curious?
“Nonprofits”- Downtown Partnership, Civic San Diego, the San Diego Foundation, and the Economic Development Corporation all have substantial influence. Some have quasi-governmental authority with virtually no accountability. These mixed use entities are home to some of the most obvious revolving door cronyism: power brokers who govern your community and then use the policies they create to make money.
We will also have segments on boards and commissions, developers, hi-tech, academia, lobbyists and others that wield undue influence over who gets what in San Diego.
We are excited to go on this journey. It is a necessary step in repairing our broken democracy. It is high time we find out who really runs San Diego so that we know where to take the fight. It’s time to take the power back.
This article first appeared in the San Diego Free Press July 23, 2014.