Here's a curious Election Day statistic that demonstrates the dangers of VWI: Voting While Ignorant. Alameda County voters cast just 358 ballots last week for conspiracy-theorizing ex-con Lyndon LaRouche, the perennial presidential wannabe, but 18,859 for LaRouche devotee Andrew Laverdiere.
And that was just in the 18th Assembly District (Southern Alameda County), which Laverdiere was vying to represent on the county Democratic Central Committee. The obscure elected body determines local party strategy for electing Democrats to state and federal posts. Laverdiere wasn't the only LaRouche minion to slip into a seat. Four of the ten LaRouchies running were elected to the thirty-seat central committee, local party leaders say -- and even the losers got thousands more votes than their main man.
It's understandable why Alameda Dems -- among the most liberal voters in the nation -- wouldn't vote for LaRouche (a Democrat in name only) and his right-wing doomsday politics. The Marxist-cum-megalomaniac is known for regularly predicting the imminent collapse of the world's economy, accusing Queen Elizabeth II of being a drug dealer, and proposing a quarantine on people with AIDS -- y'know, ideas we could all rally behind if we lived in militia country. His political organization has been called cultish, and his followers have been said to worship him the way Mel Gibson worships the Christ.
But as evidenced by LaRouche's own pathetic showing, local Democrats couldn't have elected his operatives to advance their leader's kooky agenda. Most simply didn't know whom they were voting for (or even what the central committee is, for that matter). Just as the Moonies don't tell you they're Moonies, the LaRouchies didn't identify themselves as such on the ballot. Central committee candidates don't get to write ballot statements, just a couple of words to describe themselves. The LaRouchies used cockle-warming labels such as "youth mentor," "teacher," and "student organizer." Voters played political pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey, and guess what? They pinned a few more jackasses than usual.
This kind of guessing game happens all the time in so-called down-ballot local races. And you don't get much further down the ballot than a party's central committee. "The reality is, this is off the radar screen for most voters," says Bruce Cain, the Cal political scientist we journalism hacks call whenever we need an authoritative quote. "There's no way you can know about all of the people on the down part of the ballot."
So voters resort to other strategies, Cain says. Some pick candidates with a nice-sounding ballot designation such as "teacher" -- although party officials doubt any of the LaRouchies teach anything but Lyndon worship. Or the voter might choose on the basis of gender. Democrats are notorious for favoring women, which might explain the success of LaRouchies Sylvia Spaniolo and Summer Shields, who managed to get more votes than incumbent Tony Daysog, who sits on the Alameda City Council. Sometimes voters simply favor the names near the top of the ballot (Laverdiere was listed second).
Cain says the state Democratic Party may want to consider using a caucus system in the future to elect its local leaders. That could at least reduce the risks of empowering an uninformed electorate. But Robin Torello, chair of the county Democratic Central Committee, blames the media -- those nattering nabobs of negativism -- for not informing voters before the election. Local party leaders frantically sent out press releases two weeks before the election warning of the LaRouche organization's attempt to infiltrate the party hierarchy. Only one news outlet, ANG Newspapers, followed up. Now Torello fears that the incoming dissidents will disrupt the boring business of getting other Democrats besides LaRouche elected. "They add nothing to the committee because of their single-mindedness," she says. "They support Lyndon LaRouche, and that's it."
Bow to the Fire Gods
With Richmond's elected leaders struggling to explain a $35 million deficit they created, the city's powerful firefighters' union is thinking of asking voters in November to take away much of the city council's decision-making power over the budget. Darrell Reese, the retired fire captain who acts as the union's political fixer, has been quietly floating the idea of a ballot initiative that would lock in a percentage of the city's general fund for police and fire. Right now, about half of Richmond's $104 million general fund pays for police and fire personnel costs, a figure dutifully included by Mayor Irma Anderson in a press release last week.
Public-safety unionistas have played with the idea of locking in their share at 60 percent. The firefighters' union is ticked off because eighteen hosers got laid off in December and management now wants firefighters to take pay cuts. Dan Colvig, business agent for the International Association of Firefighters Local 188, confirmed that his troops have been contemplating a ballot initiative, but stresses that it's only a vague concept right now. "Things need to settle down before we run with it," he says.
Jerry Quite Contrary
A month ago, Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown gave a stirring speech at the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies convention deriding what he called the politics of dullness. He delivered his speech shortly after the press went apeshit over Howard Dean's Iowa roar. In today's politics, Brown noted disapprovingly, doing something memorable almost always comes back to hurt a politician. He argued that so many pols nowadays -- especially in the land of Pete Wilson and Gray Davis -- try to be dull so as to stay under the ridicule-radar.
And yet Mayor Moonbeam -- who as governor signed a law thirty years ago clarifying marriage as being between a man and a woman -- is now MIA on the controversial issue of gay marriage. While some of his City Council colleagues are pushing Alameda County officials to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, brave Jerry -- who plans to run for attorney general in two years -- has clammed up on the topic. T.T. Nhu, Brown's flak-catcher, justified her boss' silence to Bottom Feeder by saying Brown was "very busy with the elections." Then, after the election, Nhu said the mayor was very, very busy with labor talks at the Port. Besides, she rationalizes, the city doesn't have any authority over marriage licenses.
Well, y'know, Jer, when it comes to doing what's right on controversial issues, some politicians are most memorable for their silence.
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