Just Sayin ‘: Are politics hindering governance?

Good governance seems to be going out of style in the world, and San Diego County is not immune to the illness. I’m sharing my thoughts as I search for reasons and solutions.

Humorist Will Rogers is remembered for saying “I do not belong to any organized party. I am a Democrat. ” Cute, but sad, it can easily be said about any political party. Whether Democrat or Republican, Green, Libertarian, Obstructionist, Know-nothing, or Rainbow – there is an overwhelming tendency to react with a rigid, scripted response to any opportunity or challenge. There is a narrow pathway through any road traveled, bordered by 10-foot-high solid walls through which no sound or view may penetrate.

While attributing this affliction to elected officials and party leaders, it would be fair to say that the disease has infected the voting population, or perhaps it started there. Whichever it is, one may reliably predict all political reactions to problems and programs.

This malady has penetrated our politics so deeply as to disrupt the functioning within the parties as well. Political dysfunctions are reported daily by the media, calling out challenges between mainstream and splinter groups. Moderates and Progressives within the Democratic Party are duking it out and minority voices are being silenced. Moderates in the Republican Party have pretty much given up their political careers after being shut down by the red-capped right-wing.

The democratic process has been undermined by the influence of money and political power. Elections, supposedly by the people, have been usurped by big donation harvesters and the heavy hand of party leaders. Is it fair for party leaders to campaign against one Democrat while favoring another? We have seen this here in San Diego. Should I contribute to a party that then uses it against the candidate of my choice?

Anyone out of the mainstream Republican or Democratic Party has little chance of forging a beachhead, and the smaller parties can only exist to highlight an overlooked segment of society while often playing a role as a spoiler – sometimes with egregious results.

Here in San Diego County we can see this phenomenon up close and personal. We may go back and forth between Democratic or Republican leadership, but the same problems remain. With a Republican mayor in San Diego, streets and other infrastructure were ignored. The current strong Democratic leadership has not merely funded a study of the streets. How is that progress?

The current strategy for repairing street surfaces and lighting is to send crews to individual sites, as haphazardly identified on long lists of trouble reports. What can be more inefficient? These work crews must be scheduled to go into major areas and clean them up according to a plan.

This is the same leadership that campaigned on a platform of equity and meeting the needs of the underserved, but then fought over City Council leadership on the basis of color. What could be a clearer example of racism?

As I closely followed the workings of the San Diego Association of Governments and the SANDAG Board of Directors, I was astounded by the amount of work that went into the Regional Transportation Plan (RTP). I was even more astounded by how little all of this meant. Idealism blotted out all reason with liberals rubber-stamping the unrestrained vision of the executive director without concern for the wild assumptions in the plan.

Conservatives were mostly lined up against the RTP as being too expensive. I suspect that their opposition would have existed at half the cost. In the end, just about everyone knew the RTP was just a paper plan to satisfy a state requirement. But that didn’t stop supporters from starting their engines on a race towards new taxes and fees.

In a classic example of reverse logic, the RTP board decided to backtrack on the one reasonable fee structure in the plan. The concept of a road use charge, based on Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) is clearly the most proportionate method of tying road usage to taxation. It relates more to road use than increasing the sales tax. Yet, our leadership jettisoned the VMT plan and immediately set the wheels in motion for a sales tax increase.

Under Democratic leadership, the city and county have announced an effort to correct perceived injustice to “underserved” populations. The word “equity” appears in just about every action taken by the mayor, the City Council and the County Board of Supervisors. There comes a point where efforts to rectify prior deficiencies denies attention to other interests of the constituency. This should cause concern for the people of Poway, Rancho Bernardo and 4S Ranch. These areas are entitled to a fair share of public safety, infrastructure maintenance, parks, recreation and libraries, etc.

What seems to be lost is any resemblance to practical and efficient governance, based on honest and balanced appraisals of issues and potential results. Lost is the effective management of municipal business, such as one might expect of a commercial business. As much as our agencies publish volumes of details about their operations, we are still confronted by the ugly facts of secretive, political maneuverings that create problems, cause major cost overruns, and have all the markings of illegal behavior.

We deserve better. We need to allow honest debates about municipal programs and solutions, with our elected officers and agencies responding to real data without the undue influence of political biases and power moves. Political parties need to have a large enough tent to include all voices.

For this to work, defensiveness must give way to compromise, concessions, and coalitions. We need to search for win-win results, where those served outnumber the few that may have to give way. Look for common ground to serve the common good. Lastly, it will require voters to demand competence over blind loyalty. Throw the scripts away and act on the facts.

A Rancho Bernardo resident, Levine is a retired project management consultant and the author of three books on the subject.

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