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The voters are furious -- but are they madder at government or big business? That question could define the next political era
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ILLUSTRATION BY DANNY HELLMAN

"One of the narratives now is where are the Obama voters and will they participate?" Jim Stearns, a San Francisco political consultant who works mostly on progressive campaigns, told us. "They still love Obama but they're not moved by him anymore."

Perhaps more important, they have lost the sense of hope that he once instilled. The Republican Party's descent into right-wing extremism and the strong anticorporate narratives that have emerged in the last year — from BP's oil spill to PG&E's political manipulation to Goldman Sachs' self-dealing to the prospect of unrestricted corporate campaign propaganda unleashed by the Citizens United ruling — have created the possibility that the negative narratives by the left may crowd out the positive ones.

"Meg Whitman is someone you can hate. She's the rich Republican CEO trying to buy her way into office," Stearns said. "But it's a depressing message."

But Stearns said there is another, most hopeful political narrative that is emerging in San Francisco, one that might eventually grow into a model that could be used at the state and federal levels. "We're lucky in San Francisco. Progressive voters are engaged."

He noted that San Francisco's voter turnout was higher than expected in the June primary, and far higher than the record low state number, even though there really weren't any exciting propositions or closely contested races on the local ballot — except for the Democratic County Central Committee, where progressives maintained their newfound control. And it's because of the organizing and coalition-building that the left has done.

"What you've seen over the last few years is a coalition of labor, neighborhood groups, environmentalists, and the progressives now operating through the Democratic Party. That's a great coalition with a lot for people to trust," Stearns said.

Meanwhile, downtown has all but collapsed as a unified political force. "They don't really have a political infrastructure," Stearns said of downtown. "Normally it would be the mayor who gets everyone in line and working together."

Even Latterman, the downtown-oriented consultant, agrees that the business community is no longer setting San Francisco's agenda because it's become fractured and unable to push a consistent political narrative: "There's certainly been a lack of coordination."

He also agrees that progressives have become more organized and effective. "Clearly, the Democratic Party of San Francisco has become a conduit for progressive politics and politicians, but not issues," Latterman said. "What a lot of people get wrong in the city is the difference between politics and policy."

Part of the reason is economic. With scarce resources, a high threshold for approving new revenue sources, and a fiscally conservative mayor unwilling to talk taxes, it's been difficult to move a progressive agenda for San Francisco. And in Sacramento, it's barely part of the discussions.

"The people of California have been held hostage by a handful of Republicans who are making us cut everything we care about," while in San Francisco "Newsom is taking an entirely Republican approach to the budget," Stearns said.

Looking toward the fall races, Stearns said the progressive coalition and majority on the Board of Supervisors will be tested on issues such as Muni reform, and the question will be whether fiscal conservatives like Sup. Sean Elsbernd can blame Muni's problems on drivers, or whether progressives can create and sell a broader package that includes new revenue and governance reforms.

"The drivers are going to get their guarantee taken out of the charter, that's going to happen. But people know that isn't all that's wrong with Muni," Stearns said.

Comments

There is some good analysis in this cover story, but Redmond/Jones seem to be saying that the solution is to elect Jerry Brown and more Democrats. Yet, here we are under Obama/Pelosi/Reid and the federal government is still driving this country off of a cliff.

If I would have told you guys in 2008 that a President Obama would be barring the media from covering a major oil spill in the Gulf, you would have sent me to crazy-town. Yet, the US Coast Guard (which reports directly to Obama) is blocking, harassing and intimidating journalists who attempt to document this catastrophe.

Pelosi? She can't even show up for the annual Pride Parade! Not like she has a taxpayer-funded private jet to shuttle her back to Washington DC or anything, right?

And what about SF? Democrats have controlled this town completely for decades, yet here we are with crime-ridden streets, a broken down transit system, sky-high housing costs, gentrification, crumbling schools, filthy sidewalks...

I've seen this movie before. I know how it ends, and it is not pretty.

We need real electoral reform and a multi-party system to make our government accountable to the people.Only then will we be able to stop fighting over scraps. Only then will our voices be heard.

Posted by Erika McDonald on Jul. 02, 2010 @ 2:55 pm

The People Want Taxes? I don't care what think tank you are quoting. I don't think you are right. Those who want those taxes won't send extra when they file unless coerced.

Posted by hudson on Jul. 02, 2010 @ 4:56 pm

If you want to really know why California has fallen to such low levels is simply because it has stopped being a state that offers any real opportunities- that is unless you're rich. The cost of housing is the single biggest issue in this state and somehow people in the media just don't seem to get it. People ( at least in California) are pissed off most about this issue. Frankly I don't really cars anymore because since I don't really feel like shelling out $500k for a small house, we're moving to Austin next year.

The article mentions that people want more taxes. Yes- I've seen quite a bit of this already. Hand-wringing parents who paid a pretty penny to live in an area of the Bay Area that has ( gasp) real, functioning public schools- something that about 95% of the country enjoys by default but yet here in super-gentrified yuppieville schools are in the toilet. Thus I've seen all sorts of crazy half-cooked ideas to "save the children!" with more parcel taxes, bake sales, and whatnot.

Guess what? NONE of the problems in this state are going to get fixed until the real problems are fixed first. The single biggest is Proposition 13. Ever since this law was passed the state has been on a one-way path towards fiscal destruction. What it all boils down to is that the cost of running a state as with everything else goes up over time. This is simple economics 101. Yet with Prop 13 you have this ridiculous tax structure where businesses and individual property owners get to pay 1975 era taxes on houses and businesses worth 10 times more than what they paid. In my East Bay neighborhood the average age is pushing 60. Most Bay Area towns are probably about the same. So thus therein lies the problem- inadequate funds due to a dwindling tax base.

The bottom line is this: Pass all the taxes you want. None of these will do any good because the foundation is rotten to start with. As long as prop 13 is active, the state's financial situation will only grow worse.

Again I don't really care because I am outta' here.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 03, 2010 @ 8:43 pm

Guest, I think you're right that Prop. 13 is at the core of the problems that we discussed in this article. And Hudson, you may be right that nobody likes paying taxes, but the polling we cited in the article indicates that people are more concerned now with essential services being slashed so deeply than they are with paying a big more in taxes.
Steven T. Jones

Posted by steven on Jul. 06, 2010 @ 3:51 pm

Which is worse big business or big government? They are one and the same. Republican, Democrat it really does not matter they are both reaching into the pocket of common everyday America to make themselves wealthier. I am not sure enough people are ready to look past the diatribe and dogma they have been taught to see beyond the curtain. This country has lost millions of jobs. We have allowed unbridled greed and demand for immediate profit to jeopardize stable corporations. Long term investments and growth plans have been replaced by immediate profit. What was called corporate raiding and destruction became a way of business in the 1990s and early 2000s. Wall street is no longer investing in the future but rather solely interested in making profits today.

We were sold the lie of "get a good education, find a good career, work hard, and you will be wealthy." The truth is go into debt for an education, become a wage slave or modern day indentured servant, and all of our innovation and ability will be used to make someone else rich. We have been convinced as workers that our contribution means little and we should accept the tokens traded to us for the hours of our lives. All this so we can buy and have stuff we do not really ever own. The truth is the ONLY thing we ever really own is the skill of our hands, the ideas in our minds, and the artistry of our abilities. Yet we allow that to be taken under the bondage of debt to provide wealth to our Masters and overlords.

I do not believe people are really ready to examine how deeply they have been duped. When they are willing to see the lies then maybe you can get them to understand. Until then the corporations, the haves, will continue to take from everyone else, the soon to be halve nots, through the manipulation of our government. SInce 1974 the productivity of the average American worker has doubled. The average income has stayed pretty close to the same. The disparity between what top 10% earn and the rest of us make has grown exponentially wider. The rich get richer. The rest of us are slowly losing ground.

That will be a hard pill for anyone to swallow. Fixing it will be a hard sale.

Posted by Dani Cailin on Jul. 29, 2010 @ 1:36 am

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