EAST OF THE LINE: PARTISAN POLITICS ARE THE POISON PILL OF DEMOCRACY—EVEN IN THE BACKCOUNTRY

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By Billie Jo Jannen

September 6, 2009 (San Diego’s East County)--Which is more important to the health of a region or a nation: a government that responds to the voice of the people or one that responds to the drive for partisan dominance?

Yes, I know. It seems like a silly question to us regular folks. So why do we often see people we trust to carry our wishes to Washington and Sacramento - and even members of our little rural advisory bodies - ignore our voices in favor of political goals that have little to do with what We The People want?

At the Politics in Paradise event, sponsored last month by East County Chamber of Commerce, California Assemblyman Joel Anderson said he was having trouble getting a bill through that would require the state to accept its own IOUs as payment for fees and taxes it levies on businesses and non-profits and would not only help businesses, but would also save the state over $18 million in interest on outstanding IOUs.

He described the straits of Noah Homes, which contracts with the state to care for impaired adults. The facility received $185,000 in IOUs as payment for services and owes nearly that in fees and taxes to the state. The state, in return, demands cash payment for those fees and taxes, even though the facility’s entire cash flow is in IOUs. This is a recipe for fiscal failure that you can multiply by thousands of small businesses/contractors statewide.

Anderson, a Republican, canvassed both sides of the aisle and, shocking in the current political climate, has strong bi-partisan buy-in, plus over 1,000 letters in support of the bill. Yet Democrat Kevin de León, chairman of the Assembly Appropriations Committee had chosen to prevent the bill from going on by relegating it to the committee’s suspense file - a place where good bills go to die without a vote. He pulled it back out last week when Anderson (photo, right, with Barry Jantz at the Politics in Paradise event) brought approximately 1,500 letters of support to the table.

Why should it take that kind of effort to promote something so obviously good as this bill? Is all of government doomed to be solely about keeping one’s opposite party from receiving credit for anything good and passing what your own party wants regardless of public opinion?

In Washington D.C., two presidents in a row have insisted on squandering trillions in taxpayer dollars over the loud-and-clear protests of millions of Americans. They had the votes, so they went ahead and did it anyway. Is having the votes the only standard we want our lawmakers to use in adopting bills?


Mountain Empire surveys

Closer to home, two local groups - one that focuses on regional economic issues, and one that focuses on environment and quality of life - have done independent surveys to steer officials toward decisions that are good for local communities.

Rural Economic Action League recently visited planning/sponsor group meetings in the Mountain Empire and requested attendees to fill out a survey detailing their concerns and interests. The goal was to discover issues common to all the Mountain Empire communities in order to better represent regional views about economic initiatives that affect property values and local businesses.

Surveys were taken in Boulevard, Jacumba, Campo, Potrero, Descanso and Pine Valley. The vast majority (71 percent) in all communities listed groundwater protection as their top concern, followed by Sunrise Powerlink (51 percent), population growth (43 percent) and wind turbines (32 percent).

The lowest interest levels were on the Multiple Species Conservation Plan (7 percent) business growth (6 percent), local employment (6 percent) and local health care (7 percent). These results dovetail with the majority of community plans, which specify rural-style growth and visitor based economic development.

The other survey was conducted in Campo by Mountain Empire Resource Information Taskforce and was carried out via postage-paid cards mailed with the club’s community newsletter. The brief questionnaire asked residents to define what level of growth they thought was appropriate and whether they supported a 460-home development proposal for Star Ranch.

In a presentation Monday night, MERIT President Cheryl Bush-Carmody told the Campo Lake Morena Planning Group that 178 postcards have been returned to date and the results are resounding in favor of conservative rural-style growth. 81 percent say they want slow growth or no growth and only 25 percent favor some version - either full or scaled down - of Star Ranch.

These two surveys, taken together, should provide planning groups, would-be developers and county/state/federal electeds with a clear picture of how they can best represent local interests.

Yet even in our home communities, we sometimes hear an echo of the worst that Washington and Sacramento have to offer: we’ve got the votes and we’ll do what we want. In Campo, for example, the recently elected pro-growth planning group majority defied the community and the protests of four minority members and changed the group’s standing rules to allow them the power to choose replacement members. This right USED to belong to the voters. They had the votes to do it and all protests were ignored.

During this stampede, they trampled several laws and spent a series of three meetings to accomplish this apparently vital partisan goal, while ignoring the land use work they were elected to do. When, three months after it was seated, the group finally DID take a vote on a land use issue, the letter of support that should have followed was never sent.

Fortunately, partisan power-building is not the focus among most of the Mountain Empire’s planning groups. Equally fortunate, for Campo’s residents, most higher level electeds say they support residents’ preferences. During the Politics in Paradise event, Supervisor Dianne Jacob, first-term Congressman Duncan Hunter-R and seasoned Congressman Bob Filner-D all expressed support for backcountry conservation and economic preferences. Filner (photo, left) even quipped that his economic advisor on backcountry affairs is Boulevard’s well-known conservationist Donna Tisdale.

Will Campo’s new planners follow their example? Only time will tell.


Billie Jo Jannen is a property owner and resident of Campo for 21 years, has written and edited rural news for 22 years, and serves as a member of Rural Economic Action League. Her children and grandchildren also live in Campo. Reach her via email at jannen@inbox.com.