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Tim Myers: I’m shocked people will act out of self-interest

Myers' Musings

Posted: July 3, 2010 7:20 p.m.
Updated: July 4, 2010 4:55 a.m.

“I am shocked. Shocked! Do you realize there is gambling going on here?”
 — Capt. Renault in “Casablanca.”

In the classic film “Casablanca,” the evil Major Strasser instructs the softly corrupt and politically ambivalent Capt. Renault to shut down Rick’s Café Americain after the heroic Victor Laszlo (with the silent complicity of Humphrey Bogart’s Rick Blaine) leads the French crowd in a rousing rendition of the French national anthem that still brings chills up and down my spine.

Renault expresses faux shock about illegal gambling in the club, while shuttering its doors and at the same time collecting his gambling winnings.

The reaction of the nine speakers and one council member to the first reading of a revised ordinance to raise individual campaign contribution limits for Santa Clarita City Council campaigns seemed to me to smack of this cynical shock — watching speaker after speaker, including unsuccessful council candidates moan and groan about the “unfairness” of the higher campaign ceiling. It reminds one of Capt.Renault’s cynical, willful ignorance at worst or incredible naivete at best.

The speakers all held one thing in common: They saw the increase presenting an opportunity for the incumbent council members to raise even more money and become even more corrupt in the service of vested development and business interests. Four of the incumbent council members, however, seek to secure and strengthen the already incredible power of incumbency.

Lovers of “Casablanca” know that Rick’s Café Americain closed not due to illegal gambling, but because the new Nazi/Vichy order feared it might become a nexus of popular resistance to authority. People knowledgeable about Santa Clarita politics also know the controversy surrounding the increase does not really relate to potential corruption, but to the power of incumbency combined and probably fed by the extreme apathy of Santa Clarita voters.

The numbers throughout the relatively short history of city elections provide some strong and somewhat sad implications.

Of the paltry 17 percent of voters who participate in City Council elections, 7 percent probably absolutely loathe the incumbents for a variety of NIMBY and personality reasons, some legitimate and others petty. Six percent absolutely love the incumbents.

Therefore, for those very active and knowledgeable in city politics, a clear majority of haters exists, leaving that side often scratching their heads about how incumbents seem to always achieve re-election.

The key, of course, relates to that last 4 percent. These voters generally possess only a very vague notion of city politics, issues and the candidates themselves. Pretty much solely due to name recognition, and sometimes a  specific affinity for a particular candidate, about 3 percent reliably vote for incumbents while 1 percent vote for challengers, which results in the 9- to 8-percent incumbent victories that occur each election cycle.

So with 13 percent of the 17-percent turnout locked in, the battle shifts to making sure those remaining 4 percent first realize an election is occurring and second remember the names of the incumbents when they receive their automatically sent vote-by-mail ballot. They also need a reminder that they like the incumbents because they generally like living in Santa Clarita.

Most agree the best way to secure these uninformed votes requires sending glossy mailers of the candidates with their pictures, along with better-known elected officials, and pictures of the candidates with the things we love in Santa Clarita like parks, parades and brand-spanking-new roads, hopefully with a few attractive children in the mix.

This requires money, and the candidates possess only three sources of campaign money: individual contributions, independent political action committee expenditures and personal dough.

In past elections, incumbents and successful candidates could raise about $70,000 in individual contributions and/or their own funds, while counting on another $30,000 to $50,000 in independent PAC expenditures.

In the “new normal” of the 2010 election, the incumbents did not put in their own funds and raised very modest direct contributions, the result being the near defeat of one incumbent.

Which brings Santa Clarita not surprisingly to the near tripling of the individual-contribution limits that will most likely pass its second reading and become law. If a contributor can provide $360 in contributions they can also probably provide $1,000. Since incumbent contributions already tilt heavily to the maximum contribution, the incumbents can easily nearly triple their funds without additional work. Simple and unshocking.

    Tim Myers is a Valencia resident. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal. “Myers’ Musings” appears Sundays in The Signal.


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