Having spent the past week poring over the 314 page San Francisco Voter Information Pamphlet and the 222 page Official California Information Guide, it seems only logical that there is something here worth sharing with local voters, but also some perspectives of broader application.
- San Francisco is a totally Democrat city with voter registration 58% Democrat, 30% Decline to State, 8% Republican, and 4% other fringe parties. With the exception of a few older judges, all elected positions in the city are held by Democrats. In the context of San Francisco, Senator Diane Feinstein is a conservative and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi is a moderate.
- California is a bit better, but not much. Registration is 45% Democrat, 23 % Decline to State, 27% Republican, and 5% other. All of the state-wide offices are held by Democrats. Republicans (many from the Central Valley) hold a bare one third in the state Assembly and Senate - enough to block tax increases, but not enough to impact budgets and policy direction. Democrat dominance rests in large part on public support of environmentalism, demographics with only 38 % of the population being "non-Hispanic white", large politically-engaged public employee unions, and an effective Democrat Party infrastructure.
- San Franciscans and Californians in general consider themselves to represent the wave of America's future - being a bit smarter and more sophisticated than the great unwashed in the red states - with political policies and government structural innovations appropriate for adoption nationally. With over 12 % of Unites States population, the voice is often heard.
1. There is no limit to the financial appetite of government. San Francisco's annual budget is $9.6 billion dollars, up 41% since FY 2012. Longer term residents have their property taxes protected by California's Proposition 13 of 1978, which limits annual increases to 2%, but rapidly escalating housing costs and building expansion yield soaring revenue for the City from folks moving into the northern hub of Silicon Valley. Yet, the 2016 ballot includes six tax increase proposals. (Vote NO on K, S, V. W, and RR. B - funding for City College is OK .)
2. Single party rule does not work. With no Republican opposition, the public employee unions have their way. For a city of 850,000, there are 30,600 city employees (one for every 28 residents) with an average salary of $108,000. And that does not include the thousands working for non-profit companies who do much of the social services work, or the school employees; nor does it reflect the generous benefit plans. In the past three years the mayor - thought by the majority of the Board of Supervisors as a budget "moderate" - has created three new city departments. With that, service to residents is so poor that voters are being asked to create a new elected office of Public Advocate with a staff of 24. (Vote NO on H)
3. Direct democracy through the initiative process does not work. San Francisco voters are being asked to vote on 17 state level ballot initiatives and 25 local initiatives. Clearly, even the most engaged citizen is not able to evaluate this onslaught or to put anything in a set of budgetary priorities. Why is this one asks? While the evil Republicans cannot be blamed with a straight face, the answer is twofold:
- State and local politicians like to put their names on popular and visible proposals; if there is some controversy, it is an opportunity to engage their supporters.
- When there is no partisan opposition in the legislature it should be easy for the dominant party to get done whatever it wants, but the reverse is true. The dominant party breaks into factions (geographic; philosophic; personal) and is faced with some tax-imposed constraints which force voter approvals. Better to ask the voters to increase the size of the pie than to get into intra-party arguments about priorities.
4. There is no solving "the homeless problem". Dealing with the bottom rung of society for humane reasons or to protect the tourist industry has been a priority of ambitious politicians of all stripes in the "City of Saint Francis" for a very long time. Last year the city spent $241 million on homeless initiatives and supportive housing, yet surveys show that the number of folks on the street has has hardly budged from about 7,000 in decades. So this year they are adding a new Department of Homelessness and Supporting Housing, and another $12 million. A portion - maybe a third - require mental treatment, but for the rest "build it and they will come". (Vote NO on C, M, and U)
5. The friction between African American activists and the police cannot be avoided, even in the most liberal of cities. As one would expect, San Francisco has the most diverse police force in the country - gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation. The African American population is only 6 % (42% white; 15% Latino; 33% Asian; 4% other), but we have had three police killings of African Americans in the past year, with the third resulting in the resignation of the chief who was an excellent fit for the politics of the city and thoroughly supportive of whatever the Black Lives Matter movement wants. Advocates now want to expand the Office of Citizen Complaints to become the Department of Police Accountability, with an extensive mandate to dictate policies and procedures. (Vote NO on G.)
Somewhere there is some wisdom here in the fading moments of the Barack Obama presidency. If nothing else, it is possible to survive in the type of country that Barack Obama, Bernie Sanders, and Hillary Clinton would create - as long as the socialists have lots of rich young entrepreneurs to support their campaigns and a booming economy to tax.
This week's bonus is a compelling short essay, "A Better Choice" by libertarian John Stossel, advocating a vote for Gary Johnson.
bill bowen - 10/21/2016