The author is a regular contributor to Voices. He lives in Santa Barbara.
Like most, I was a neophyte when it came to local politics. While I had a bit of experience at the national level, I knew nothing about how the “Machine” worked locally. Well, I’m here to report that the Machine is alive and well in Santa Barbara County.
Every candidate for supervisor must periodically file a Campaign Statement that lists his or her contributions. In District 1 (you should check your district), for example, the current supervisor filed on January 23, for the period Jan. 1-18.
Remember, being a party-endorsed incumbent matters. Why you might ask? Because with incumbent power comes the ability to influence salaries and pensions for many of our hardworking county employees, including our deputies, DA investigators and firefighters — folks whose life-risking work I truly admire.
Anyway, in 18 short days, this supervisor raised nearly $54,000 in contributions — approximately 43% coming from unions. SEIU Local 620 and “our” Deputy Sheriff’s Association each gave $10,000, while last year the firefighters union gave $25k. Understand, both deputies and firefighters unions endorsed the incumbent before Laura Capps officially entered the race. Now that’s what I call a “Machine.”
Concerning elections themselves, Santa Barbara County is wrongly different. Do we have individual limits like San Francisco ($500), Ventura ($750) or L.A. ($1,500)? No, not in our banana republic, where influence knows no bounds. Of course, this is just fine for the incumbent, but not for his honesty-first challenger.
How about moratoriums that would preclude contributions for a reasonable time before or after an individualized board decision? No, not here, where ethics are as scarce as water.
And how about an ethics commission, because— believe you me — like other counties, we need one. We exist in a cannabis-controlled era where accusations and suspicions abound. The need to preserve the public trust is required here more than anywhere on earth — campaign financing, government ethics and lobbying all need reform.
Ms. Capps, of course, sees the need for change. The incumbent who is more focused on the 90 or so cannabis growers and not the 450,000 other county residents, well…
In the end, please don’t believe that our local races are all that fair. Our candidates can speak about national issues (e.g., Citizens United) but when it comes to the cash, they grab it — whether it’s from unions, special interests, corporations or individuals. And if they don’t, political action committees begin to spring up to replenish the swamp. It’s already happening.
When much of your funding comes from unions and special interests, you can afford Christmas cards, New Year’s cards, frequent direct mail, digital ads and heavy TV. I’m only sorry my birthday isn’t before March, as I’m half expecting a gift. I really do love election years.
As a challenger, you become hugely outgunned, the quintessential underdog. We have come to expect this nationally, but when our supervisorial races become million-dollar affairs, something is very wrong.
But hey, this is America, and if we don’t make a change in March and November, we can all expect more of the same. Whether you’re in a union or not, vote your individual conscience and know the Machine’s influence is real.
Out with the status quo. Go challengers!