Wednesday, August 8, 2007 5:09 PM
"Of the People, by the People, for the People"
The debate over revising the city of San Diego's charter -- particularly in light of the city's recent move to a "strong-mayor" form of government -- is one of the most critical issues that will shape the future of the city. The charter "serves as the basic set of rules for our City government ... prescribing the relationship between ... the Mayor and the City Council and the interaction of the City Attorney with both." Despite the document's importance to the people of San Diego, a massive behind-the-scenes fight is taking place to determine how much say the public will actually have in deciding the future governance of our city.
Mayor Sander's Charter Review Committee may give the appearance of being open to public opinion and dialogue; but it is a thinly veiled attempt by the same "good old boys" who have helped create the mess in this city to maintain their power. Everything about this committee -- from poorly publicized meetings and forums, to the time they are held (Friday mornings), to Chairman John Davies edict (that only a total of 20 minutes of public non-agenda comment will be allowed at each meeting) -- has helped keep the public out of this process.
According to committee member Mike McDade, "This couldn't be a more public process when you consider it winds up with a public vote." Does public process mean a public vote? Or does public process mean an engaged public that has representatives on the committee and not primarily City Hall insiders? I think we are all astute enough to know the difference. A cursory review of the committee may lead you to the conclusion that it is representative. But people who live in underrepresented communities recognize that there are crucial subtleties missing in the process. The committee is comprised of seven members from the mayor's camp. The City Council appointed eight members (one from each district), though the mayor also got to decide which of the council nominees he would take. When you take a deeper look into where the members live, you will discover that four of the members do not live in the city and not one of them lives in Districts 4 or 8.
The committee had the work plan and agenda laid out for them when they began the process. As someone who has personally attended or watched several committee meetings, it is clear that the committee is talking about issues, but the issues that they are discussing have been framed for them by the mayor's staff.
What is also disheartening is that this administration was supposed to be different. After all, it was "Former Police Chief" Jerry Sanders who cosigned the argument against Proposition F, the "Strong Mayor initiative" in 2004, joining Councilwoman Donna Frye and the League of Women Voters. The ballot argument cited the need for "government accountability," "protection of our neighborhoods," and the need to "stop backroom deals" as the rationale for opposing the Strong Mayor. I guess power has led to a change in his tone.
Thus, Progressive San Diego joins the broader progressive community in calling for a charter review committee to be elected by district (rather than anointed by a few in power) so that all San Diegans will have a say as to who represents them in crafting changes to the charter. This is the only way to have a true "public process." We must work on the public's agenda, not on the Mayor's. We must ensure that those individuals who truly have a stake in the process, who come from various communities and backgrounds, review the charter, our guiding community document.
-- TOMMIE WATSON
"The Silent Majority"
Progressive San Diego was launched in 2003 as a political action committee with a simple goal -- to elect progressive candidates by helping to unify the progressive community, engaging the progressive base, and aiding in the election process through endorsements, fundraising and volunteerism.
PSD was founded with the perception that nationally and, even in "conservative San Diego," progressives are, in fact, the silent majority. Though issues are often framed in a way that (mis-)leads people to believe that the nation is growing increasingly conservative, the facts suggest the opposite. According to a recent article in The Nation (which relied heavily on a twenty-year roundup of public opinion from the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press):
A majority, 54 percent, of Americans think "government should help the needy even if it means greater debt" (it was only 41 percent in 1994).
Two-thirds want the government to guarantee health insurance for all citizens.
Only 25 percent of American?s want Roe v. Wade overturned, while 58 percent want to see tougher gun control laws (as opposed to a mere 10 percent who want gun laws that are less strict).
Even among those who otherwise say they would prefer a smaller government, 57 percent believe "labor unions are necessary to protect the working person," and a majority of the public says they generally side with labor in disputes and only 34 percent with companies.
A massive 89 percent of Americans favor rehabilitation over incarceration for youth offenders to reduce crime, while in even the most "hot button" topic, 62 percent of people believe that undocumented immigrants should be allowed to "keep their jobs and eventually apply for legal status."
These statistics are just the beginning?similar progressive positions can be found relating to environmental protection, using diplomacy (rather than military action) to combat terrorism, support for civil unions, and even in the type of sexual education that is taught (abstinence-only vs. comprehensive programs that include contraception).
We (progressives) have ourselves to blame for not having the conviction to stand by what we believe in. Too often, we fall for what the Rush Limbaughs, Bill O?Reillys and Rodger Hedgecocks would have us believe: That we are out of touch with American values. We must proudly, vocally and unapologetically take back the progressive mantle and recognize that most of the public is with us.
Luckily, even politicians (who are often the last people to spot shifting public perceptions) are starting to get this message, with an increasing number running on an openly progressive platform. Even Hillary Clinton has started to refer to herself as a "modern progressive," which should lead progressives to the conclusion that our greatest worry might no longer be to convince the public that we must be a more vocal majority, but rather to ensure that the term is not co-opted and continues to represent our values and ethics ... which are much more in line with the people of this country and city than many would have us believe.
-- TOMMIE WATSON