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Bernie and The Donald are Right! The Game IS Rigged, Particularly in California

EASTSIDER-So it’s political season again, and the other day I was wondering about two things for this week’s article. First was, how much does it cost to buy an Assembly seat in California? Second was, why in god’s name would Jose Huizar care about homeless people? Lucky me, the Internet (and CityWatch, of course) saved me yet again. 

Let’s do the easy one first -- our very own Council District 14’s Jose Huizar. Goodness knows he’s personally created enough homeless people with his propensity to do anything any developer wants, including wiping out affordable housing in the name of saving affordable housing, having the police sweep folks up out of Skid Row to make way for new downtown developments, and approving skybridges between the developments downtown so that the tenants don’t have to be bothered with the smell and reality of those living below them. 

When I saw in the LA Times that Huizar had become a champion of a one “B” as in Billion dollar bond for the homeless, I was momentarily perplexed. 

It was a good bet that guilt and remorse were not on his list of reasons for doing this, so why indeed would he, of all people, care? CityWatch to the rescue, in the form of Richard Lee Abrams’ very cool article last week about bonds for the homeless

Eureka! The answer is simple -- the scumbag real estate developers are in trouble!

I always wondered exactly who could afford the obscene rents in their new developments, and Mr. Abrams demonstrated the obvious answer: no one can or will. Vacancies are up, what’s left of the middle class is beatin’ it out of Dodge, and the developers are in a pickle. 

For example, I could never figure out who actually lives in the giant Orsini development on Sunset Blvd by the Hall of Administration, because it looked like about 10 people were actually renting in this monstrosity. 

Now I have the answer. No one really lives there. It’s just like the housing market when the banks kept churning out mortgage CDO’s way past the point of no return until the collapse. Here as well, the development machine has to keep on building until the bottom falls out. 

Gallopin’ Jose to the rescue. Since the only population statistic LA has that’s growing is its homeless population (thanks to the developers and City Hall,) so how to extract some money from them? After all, they don’t have any money. 

BONDS! Of course, let’s put a billion dollars of liability on the taxpayers, to fuel the developers’ machine. Of course it won’t actually work, as a recent LA Times article points out, but, what the hey, build them and don’t worry about who’s actually going to be able to get in. LA politics at their blatant worst. 

And that’s the tie in to my question about what it costs to buy an Assembly seat…as well as why our City is simply one giant ATM machine to the developers. 

See, at least I know what it costs to buy an LA City Council seat -- about $400,000 to $500,000 cash up front before you announce. Unless, of course, it’s a fight between two professional politicians contesting the same seat. But when it comes to buying an Assembly seat, I had no idea – but recent legislative changes got me to wondering. 

Dan Walters to the rescue, it turns out that the short answer is, the cost varies -- based on which District you run for, and what ballot initiatives will be on the November ballot! 

You see, back in 2011 the governor and the legislature changed the rules of the game for state wide runoffs and ballot measures. Courtesy of SB 202 (2011), ballot measures must appear on the November instead of the June ballot. Add in the “top two” primary system change from Proposition 14 (2010), and the June primaries became a sort of second-rate event. The real action comes in November. 

Here’s how the combination of these two changes revised the fiscal math of winning a seat in the California legislature. First, it made most of the elections a one party runoff. Since almost all the seats are gerrymandered to be guaranteed safe for either a Democrat or a Republican, the top two primary vote getters are usually from the same party. The old system saw the top Republican and top Democrat face off in November, no matter how many votes each got. 

Whether it was intended or not, this makes the buying and selling of legislative seats in the primary a lot less interesting because the runoff is usually the top two Dems or Republicans in a given District -- instead of our “old” two party everywhere system. Essentially, insiders only need apply. Makes you think that Bernie and the Donald are right about the system being rigged, doesn’t it? 

Prime example here would be between Kamila Harris and Loretta Sanchez in the Senate race to replace Barbara Boxer. They will likely be the two winners out of a field of some 34 candidates for that gravy-no-term-limit position, so the primary is just a warmup. Watch for party machinery, money and endorsements, arm twisting, those kinds of things. And Republican candidates probably won’t get bunch of votes. Parenthetically, I’m told the smart money is on Willie Brown’s pony in the race, Kamila Harris. 

The second change involves our initiative process – it’s where the money variable really comes into play because there’s a ton of money behind some of these initiatives. That money is usually going to go to one of the top two November candidates. 

As an example, let’s look at the 4th Assembly District, way up around Lake/Yolo/Napa Counties. There is no incumbent, and Cecilia Aguiar-Curry (D) has suddenly become the beneficiary of some $700,000 from front groups backed by Chevron and Valero oil companies. Wonder why? C’mon, no you don’t -- Big Oil has an interest in the outcome. 

And look at the millions of special interest dollars that will be spent on stuff like the billion dollar bond measure for the homeless. On top of that, right now, statewide, we have the pot initiative, maybe an extension of the Governor’s Prop 30 sales tax, bonds for Education, as well as the Metro 1/2 cent sales tax measure. And back to our 4th Assembly district race…just coincidentally, there’s also talk about an “oil extraction tax” on you know who.   

If you think that the players in these ballot measures aren’t going to give to their favorite politicians to curry favor (sounds nicer than buying their vote), then you still believe in the tooth fairy. 

And the Point Is... 

Like the headline says, Bernie and the Donald agree on one thing -- the game is rigged. And it is. This isn’t about Democrat or Republican, it’s about how politics really works in 2016, particularly here in California. Most of these state offices are locked in by political gerrymandering to be permanently (D) dem or (R) rep. My little traipse through reality is simply an explanation about how the political parties, special interests, lobbyists and political consultants manipulate us like Monsanto’s genetically modified food crops. 

So think about this article when you vote on the June primary ballot or in the November general election. Check out the results and see if I’m right in my analysis. Get disgusted, get angry, and get involved.

 

(Tony Butka is an Eastside community activist, who has served on a neighborhood council, has a background in government and is a contributor to CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.