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Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Citizen Unrest

In Utah last week a United States Senator was removed from his party's primary at the state wide party convention. Three term Senator Bob Bennett (R) became the first incumbent in the current election cycle to be removed from office not of his own volition.

Number two went down yesterday in the West Virginia Democratic primary when Alan Mollohan was defeated in his bid to defend a seat he has held since 1982. That is not a typo, he has won fourteen straight elections for the seat, a seat his father had held for the fourteen years before that. In 2008 Mollohan was re-elected with almost 100% of the vote, only 130 voted against him.

Upcoming is the interesting re-election bid of Senator Arlen Specter in Pennsylvania. Specter switched his party affiliation from Republican to Democrat in 2009 figuring it would help his chances of re-election. Specter is tied in some polls and behind in some others against Rep. Joe Sestak. Things are so bad for Specter that President Obama has pulled his support and will not visit the state for him or show any support--thanks for giving us the 60 seat majority in the Senate Arlen but I've lost enough elections lately appears to be the message.

So for twenty Republicans have announced their retirement from Congress and seventeen Democrats. What is of importance in the retirements is that almost all of the Republican vacancies will be in "safe" seats whereas almost all of the Democratic retirements are in seats where a challenge to the incumbent, either in the primary or general election, can prove successful. Democrats in Congress when faced with a challenging election fight and possible defeat versus retiring have mostly opted for the latter.

None of this should be a surprise, though many in the media who have discounted the citizen unrest that rose throughout last spring and the summer over Obamacare seem surprised. Despite efforts of the Mainstream Media, the left and Democratic leadership to portray Tea Party activists and those who attend their rallies as racist, extremist, dangerous or otherwise disconnected from Main Street America, the citizens and voters across the country are saying otherwise. The general sentiment in most Congressional districts is one of "enough."

Enough of the arrogance and entitlement of incumbency. Enough of putting down the American people as not smart enough to understand what is good for them. Enough of passing life changing legislation against our desires. Enough of huge deficits and growing public debt. Enough of fiscal policies that guarantee more and more taxes and regulation in the future. Enough.

The unrest is not just focused on federal politicians but also state and local incumbents are taking heat and facing difficult re-election bids. What can be challenging in California is gauging the sentiment in other parts of the country. With a vast majority of our population concentrated in the mass urban areas of San Francisco-Oakland-San Jose and Los Angeles-Long Beach-San Diego the liberal mindset of the general populace and media has far more impact than say Oklahoma with two relatively small cities in Tulsa and Oklahoma City, or Ohio with spread out smaller urban areas of Cleveland, Cincinnati, Dayton and Columbus. The bubble in California has enabled and supported a strong movement to big government from the cities through the counties up to Sacramento. Gerrymandered districts ensure incumbency, even with term limits the replacements are the same ideologically as their predecessors, and continued government growth.

Are even Californians becoming sufficiently dissatisfied to start challenging the government status quo at all levels of government? In Long Beach the recent elections suggest perhaps not as three out of three incumbents on the ballot easily won re-election to City Council, as did the Mayor, and of two incumbents running write in campaigns one has made a run-off. With primary elections approaching in June there is little competition for any of the incumbents up and down the ballot from within their party. I say party as with the exception of Rep. Dana Rohrabacher who represents the southern part of Long Beach, all of our incumbents are Democrats.

The main exception is a challenge to Rep. Laura Richardson from Terry Ponchak in the Democratic primary. In many parts of the country Ponchak may have a good shot at defeating a member of Congress who has voted lock-step with Speaker Nancy Pelosi, including the $787 Billion Stimulus bill that has done nothing and Obamacare. Added to that are her well documented personal financial problems, including a foreclosure that was mysteriously reversed and several local merchants who have been stiffed by her for services and goods provided in the past. She blatantly sold her seat on the Long Beach City Council to the unions in a bid to force unionization on local hotels just before her run for State Assembly then leveraged those same connections to beat better qualified Jenny Orepeza in the Democratic primary for her current seat. Unfortunately Ponchak is running against an incumbent with $1 million in funds in a not very educated voting base. While I wish Ponchak well in his run I feel any chance to beat this incumbent will come from the Republican side in the general election from Star Parker.

The citizen unrest does not begin and end at the ballot box. More and more citizens are demanding answers from the bureaucrats and leaders of the various levels of government as to how their tax money is spent on salaries, benefits and pensions. Fueling the unrest is the growing realization by the citizenry of the immense power and influence the public employees unions have in selecting candidates and funding political campaigns to ensure labor friendly votes in the legislatures. With the State of California running deficits into the tens of billions of dollars, voters want to know why departments are buying whole new fleets of cars, why many employees receive up to 50% of their income in overtime, why we have an unfunded pension obligation approaching $500 billion dollars, and that is just at the state level.

Locally Long Beach is running a deficit of almost $20 million, again, and the same targets are on the radar of unrest, the size of the city government and number of employees and the salaries, pension and benefit obligations being paid by the citizens. Incumbents get re-elected and city leadership throughout the top levels stay the same and deficits continue. While the size of the government does not shrink basic services such as road repair, library hours, and public safety decline.

To show the issue the Long Beach Post yesterday posted a link that lists every city employee, their classification and salary. It has caused quite an uproar with the employees who feel their privacy has been violated, but the information has been made public by the city under a public records request. While the ethics of posting names is debated the underlying issue is the sheer number of employees and the total financial obligation in salaries, benefits and pensions.

I presume that very few Tea Party attendees are government workers. Assuming that I am correct and most are in private industries, employed by small and medium sized businesses, or small business owners themselves, it is easy to see their anti-big government position. It is natural for them to make the observations regarding their companies and industries in comparison with government: While our industry has become much more efficient through technological advancement and investment, government has not. While we have been able to grow our business by leveraging technology instead of employees, government has not. While our industry has had to lay off 20% of its workforce due to economic down turn, government has not--in fact it has added jobs.

As an ideological outsider to most I come in contact with in Long Beach and California I am amazed at the lack of understanding of those upset and dissatisfied with government and its fiscal irresponsibility from Long Beach to Washington D.C. The echo chamber of local opinion and ideology creates a sense that everyone thinks the same way and an incomprehension of how the people in Nevada, Florida, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania can some how unseat their incumbents and those who share their ideas of big government.

Well it is happening. Maybe not here in Long Beach or in California, yet, but on the other side of the Colorado River citizens across the country are saying "enough." While the publishers and editors of the Long Beach Post are taking considerable heat from city employees, and may suffer some economic consequences if their advertisers do not stand by them, by posting for all citizens to see who gets our tax dollars they are starting the conversation in Long Beach that could lead to true fiscal reform and an overhaul of our local government.

Or maybe not. Incumbents are pretty comfy in California, therefore so are top managers, leaders and workers in the government least until the majority of voters decide to change how they vote.

CORRECTION: I inadvertantly used 2008 revenue for Richardson's campaign funds, here is link to her 2010 campaign funds, as you can see she has only $40,000 in the bank and over $330,000 in debts---not at all ironic given the deficit she has helped rack up in Washington.

The site does not yet have campaign finance information on the other candidates for the seat, Democrat Terry Ponchak or Republican Star Parker.



Bob Schilling said...

No doubt there is unrest in the country. But will we be better or worse off at the end? People are angry, but they don't seem to be very rational, and they seem grievously uninformed. The consensus of economists both in the US and abroad is that the actions taken by the Bush and Obama Administrations to support key economic sectors last year were essential in preventing a true catastrophe. This is supported by the current state of the markets and recent economic numbers. I know that some claim that the economy would have recovered without the various stimulus efforts -- some of which have not yet been felt -- but those critics cannot know that. All they can know is that things were very bad, there seemed no end to it, and now they're better. The consensus of economists and of smart people I know in business is one of cautious optimism. Personally, I think the counter-cyclical actions taken by governments across the developed world had a lot to do with that.

You and others continue to repeat right-wing claims that appear, at least to me, entirely spurious. I cannot see the factual basis for most of these claims, beyond the loudness of the declarations. Worse, these misunderstandings and outright falsehoods are used as basis for "voter" and "public" anger. You are, of course, entirely entitled to your opinion -- but if your point of view is successful, I'm afraid we'll have policy based on passion more than reality. George W. Bush has already shown us what that can bring.

By the way, Mr. Mollohan was defeated by another Democrat. Whether he was as big a crook as his opponent claimed, I don't know. If he was, he deserved to be defeated. And on the same night, Jimmy Carter's grandson won a Democratic Congressional primary in Georgia. Not all the results proclaim the triumph of conservatism.

As for Laura Richardson, it would be merciful if someone did defeat her, and certainly less embarrassing for California.

I don't think the media has discounted citizen unrest. I think the media has amplified it, and in the case of Fox, the media has actively tried to cause it. I think that's dangerous.

As for California, I don't think our choice of Governor will make a much of a difference. Personally I think that Jerry Brown is the more practical of the two, and I think he knows more about how the awful system of California government works. I imagine you're choosing between Steve and Meg. I actually thought Poizner had potential until he went crazy. I thought he was a pretty good Insurance Commissioner. I don't think Meg will do much more than play to Republican real estate interests.

The Governor simply doesn't have enough power to do what must be done, and the Legislature is chronically unable to do so. My guess is that the Correctional Officer's Association, the California Teacher's Association, the ILWU, the Chamber and the California Realtors' Association will find legislators who can be enrolled in their respective points of view, not matter what party holds the Legislature. Indeed, these days it seems to me that the fight to hold almost any legislature is between politicians vying for personal wealth and power.

If you really want to reform California, redraw the district lines, abolish or substantially amend term limits, and impose real restrictions on lobbying. Short of that, just sit back and enjoy the ride.

Dennis C Smith said...

Bob: Calling those protesting the actions of the government "grievously uniformed" is exactly the dismissive attitude taken by the Administration, Congress and most of the media. It appears that a national debt at $12.9 trillion, 90% of GDP, a current deficit of $1.4 Trillion and proposal for over $3 Trillion next year, and the brutal process by which Obamacare was passed despite folks back home overwhelmingly telling many in Congress to vote "no" is uniformed. I wish more Americans were as uninformed.

Regarding California the power of the Governor is the power of veto, the power of appointments. I am fully behind John Eastman for AG as I believe he will uphold California law and will not try to make policy a la current AG Brown. The main Demo in the race is the current DA in SanFran that has allowed the city to break state and federal laws that fit her social mores. Elect a law breaker and see how effective our government of laws becomes.