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We need informed voters

Posted: September 10, 2008 10:24 p.m.
Updated: November 12, 2008 5:00 a.m.
 

As Sen. McCain led delegates to the Republican convention in a chant of "Drill, baby, drill" and our own City Council heard complaints Tuesday night about the bias of certain council members in relation to the huge proposed hospital expansion, the issue of special-interest money influencing politics once again raises questions.

Representatives funded by the oil industry will promote more drilling and discourage alternative fuels and alternative fuel research, no matter how much we need to move away from our addiction to oil.
It is also an obvious fact that a council member supported by a Political Action Committee that was funded by G&L Realty to the tune of $30,000 is going to support G&L's proposed hospital office space expansion, in spite of the enormous burden of traffic and noise it will add to our community. G&L Realty would not have spent all that money on Councilwoman Laurie Ender's campaign if it weren't pretty darn sure about how she would vote.

Special-interest money usually doesn't distort the political process by outright bribery. These interests merely find candidates who will support their ideas and then donate a very large amount of money toward getting those people elected.

They also may spend large sums on negative mailers that disparage candidates with opposing views to make sure those candidates don't get elected. We have certainly seen plenty of such negative campaigns in our city conducted by the developers against local candidates who supported slower and more managed growth for our valley. When we as a nation cannot change our source of energy, even though our current reliance on oil is polluting our air, impacting our health and affecting our economy through high prices - or when we worry that our local City Council may not make decisions that are in the best interests of the community because of how council members' campaigns are funded - it is time for a change.
For a nation that sent men and women into space and walked on the moon, energy alternatives and fair elections are certainly possible if we want to put our minds to it.

The environmental community has for some time supported various ways of making people aware of money and politics, as well as trying to get special-interest money out of politics. Such efforts have ranged from "Political Report Cards" by the Sierra Club that disclose a candidate's voting record and funding sources, to CalPrig's initiative to identify candidates on the ballot who abide by a pledge to not take large donations.

Santa Clarita Organization for Planning and the Environment even hoped to educate the public about the benefits of publicly funded elections with a little "street theater."

SCOPE supported the idea of "Clean Money" elections with its Fourth of July float two years ago entitled "Clean Money for a Clean Environment," which depicted money's influence on environmental decisions.
How can we ever hope to clean up our air when any state legislator who proposes stricter controls on auto emissions is run out of office in the next election by negative hit mailers funded by the auto industry? How can we hope to move toward alternative energy production when representatives elected by oil-industry money stifle research grants and instead direct additional tax benefits in their direction?

How can we hope to have the best planning in Santa Clarita that will benefit the entire community when the majority of council election money comes from developers or realty companies?

And why do the voters continue to be fooled by slick color mailers and negative campaigns? It seems obvious to me that anyone who spends upward of $100,000 to be elected to a council seat - a position that will only pay $1,000 a month - is there to represent particular interests. Our democracy will only work with an educated public. We must be more informed voters. This is still a democracy, and armed with good information, we can elect representatives who will work for us if we take the time to really research the candidates' views and funding sources.

Lynne Plambeck is president of the Santa Clarita Organization for Planning and the Environment (SCOPE) and a Santa Clarita resident. Her column reflects her own views and not necessarily that of The Signal. "Environmentally Speaking" appears Thursdays in The Signal and rotates among local environmentalists.

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