WHO WE ARE-Vote early and vote often as they did in the heyday of Chicago boss-style politics. Or don’t vote at all like most of us in Los Angeles do. And if you do vote without knowing any more than they tell you in mailers and ads, whose fault is it that we got the government we got?
Take my own district in the West Valley where many of us got a call the other day from Ethel Kennedy herself, sort of following up on Maria Shriver’s the day before. I’m expecting the ghost of RFK to give me a jingle by Friday and his late, great older brother to come calling on the weekend.
They love little Bobby Shriver, his mom and dad were so sincere they just know he’ll deliver on his promise for the county: “new ideas, smart solutions, create thousands of good-paying jobs and be fiscally responsible even as he builds out the subway to the Westside, converts the Orange Line busway to light rail all across the Valley and connect the Valley by rail to the “rest of Los Angeles … on time and on budget.”
His opponent, Sheila Kuehl, dismisses Bobby as at best a loveable spoiled goof, sort of like a mix of the hopelessly yearning wannabe Dobie Gillis and the hopelessly alienated proto-pothead Maynard G. Krebs from the TV show that launched her career so long ago as Zelda under the stage name Sheila James.
My own Assemblyman, Matt Dababneh, fills my mail and email box with boasts about his accomplishments … like how he balanced the budget and restored fiscal health to the state, stood up 100 percent for seniors and is a Val through and through, fourth generation, worked for Valley powerbroker Brad Sherman and “assisted thousands of West Valley residents with Medicare, Social Security and the Veterans Affairs” -- all that in just one year as a legislator.
For proof of his popularity, he leads his latest mailer with a picture himself with the Valley mountains behind and a quote from the Daily News that says he’s the kind of guy that “smart voters from political party could reasonably support.”
The quote was from a September 2013 editorial when he was running in a special election to fill the shoes, so to speak, of 2JobBob Blumenthal who simultaneously was running for re-election and the City Council where he now has proven himself to be one more lamb following the lead ram. Despite all the political money he could need and the overwhelming Democratic registration edge, Dababneh beat underfunded Republican Susan Shelley by barely 300 votes.
As he faces a rematch with Shelley, Dababneh boasts on his website about his legislative accomplishments, specifically the only bill he actually authored that became law: a measure tightening the laws on companies selling pet insurance.
The one moment when Dababneh actually caught the attention of the Capitol doesn’t come up anywhere. It was the time back in the spring when he escorted a Republican staffer home after a party. After a night of fun and games, she awoke with a broken rib – a subject the entire deliberative body found most amusing when a smirking Assemblyman Mike Gatto, true to tradition, hazed Dababneh when he spoke to his first bill on the Assembly floor by joking about a rib.
I bring up these matters about the candidates I have to choose from to make a point but not the obvious one that the politics of the city, county, state and nation for that matter are rotten to the core. Where in the world are politicians not corrupt?
The fault lies not in the rotting political system and certainly not in our stars. We vote mindlessly and ignorantly for the most part and are forced to choose between candidates that will become just another cog in the machine if they win just like 99 percent of those who preceded them.
The inspiration for my career in journalism and the mentor of political views was the great muckraker Lincoln Steffens who a century ago put together on the staff of McClure’s magazine the greatest team of investigative journalists in history, including Ida Tarbell, Ray Stannard Baker and himself.
In Steffens’ seminal work “Shame of the Cities,” he examines how a little corruption goes a long way toward making cities work for its resident but inevitably leads to systemic corruption and failure. In dynamic systems, reformers and do-gooders take over and make a mess of things, leading to putting the crooks – chastened for a while – back into office.
Good government needs strong leadership that shares a vision of a great city and strives with the active participation of the citizenry to achieve the greatest good for the greatest number.
Here’s a passage from Steffens’ introduction:
“You may blame the politicians, or, indeed any one class, but not all classes, not the people. Or you may put it on the ignorant foreign immigrant, or any one nationality, but not on all nationalities, not on the American people. But no one class is at fault, nor any one breed, nor any particular interest or group of interests. The misgovernment of the American people is misgovernment by the American people.”
Those words were written 110 years ago. I read them 50 years ago and spent my life trying to do something about it with the skills that I had. So when you vote if you do, think about it: you got the government you elected and paid for and if you don’t like it, ask yourself what are you going to do about it?
(Ron Kaye is a lifetime journalist, writer and political observer. He is the former editor of the Daily News and the founder of the Saving LA Project. He writes occasionally for CityWatch and can be reached at Ron@RonKayeLA.com)
Vol 12 Issue 88
Pub: Oct 31, 2014