Letter from California

An archive of the weekly "Letter from Calfornia", written by Jim McCarthy.

Monday, November 29, 2004

Letter from California-November 29, 2004

Did the Presidential campaign seem long to you this year? I’m all mixed up, because I have distinct memories of watching the early primaries right around the time of the Seinfeld finale, but that can’t be true because I’m pretty sure Bush didn’t start running for re-election at least until he won the first time. I’m pretty sure.

So a few weeks have gone by and the excitement of the elections have faded, like an orange “We’re Number 1!” foam finger after a few years of sitting in a trophy case. The results and statistics have been picked over as obsessively as Rain Man counting toothpicks, and all those fancy analysts have come to the same conclusion: Bush got more votes.

In California, though, one group did far better than the President and his party at the polls. In fact, this group went undefeated on November 2nd in California in more than 100 races around the state, most of the time with more than 60% of the tally. Who could this political powerhouse be? The Free Pizza and Firecrackers Party? The Coalition to Put Root Beer in Our Drinking Fountains? Citizens Against Celine Dion? While those would certainly all do well at the polls, none of them could expect a clean sweep. So who could this ultra-successful, super-popular bunch of wise, good-looking, and competent heroes be?

Incumbents. Yes, the tribe of well-meaning stumblebums who represent California in Washington and Sacramento, from both political parties, managed to go 153 and 0 on November 2nd. Not a single incumbent lost. Where there were open seats, the winner came from the party of the outgoing member, all 36 times.

For a group of people with a reputation for driving the state into energy crisis, accidentally hiring 60,000 new state employees, and spending their time regulating tanning booths and text books, their sudden transformation from Bad News Bears to New York Yankees (pre-fold) strikes me as strange. How did these people suddenly get so good at something? After all, the official motto of the California State Assembly is: “Mediocrity is its own Reward.”

On second thought, that might not be its official motto, if by “official” you mean sanctioned by them and committed to the public record. Of course, if by “official motto” you mean “obvious wisecrack carrying a painful truth” then, yes, it is their official motto. They may be decent human beings and earnest public servants (or they may be boneheads…you can’t generalize), but it’s just not a group that would impress you. If they were a fifth grade school class visiting your dairy or matchstick factory on a field trip, you’d worry about the future. If they were graduating seniors and you were making a commencement speech, you’d lay off the big words and try to explain the world using SpongeBob as a metaphor. That way, they’d at least get something out of high school.

So how did they win all those races? They all cheated. Scoff if you will, but it’s true. They didn’t cheat the decent, old-fashioned way, by stuffing the ballot box using dead and imaginary voters, or by sending pipe-carrying thugs to break the legs of the opposition. They didn’t even buy off election officials to count the ballots over and over again “until they came out right” the way a self-respecting crook would.

Instead, they all got together in 2001 and just re-drew the lines that defined their districts. Who needs constituents that don’t already agree with you? Just draw a line around those people and put them in the next district. In return, that district can give you some of its misfits. The system works! And since you’ve never really got to worry about losing, you can pretty much delete all emails that start with anything other than, “Dear Representative Soforth. I totally agree with you on everything and have no complaints whatsoever…” As for people from that other party, they’ve done nothing for you and since you’ll never need their vote, you might as well compare them to Hitler as often as possible.

One commentator said that we used to have a system where the voters picked the politicians, but that now the politicians pick the voters.


Don’t let this totally un-American idea completely harsh your Holiday mellow, however. People are thinking about how to make local elections at least as meaningful as the voting on American Idol again. Even Governor Schwarzenegger has said that he thinks the girlie-men and girlie-women of the Assembly could benefit from working their pathetic, flabby political muscles in more competitive races.

Until then, just consider yourself honored to be a constituent in your congressional district. And if you happen to disagree with the party representing you, do us all a big favor.

Keep it to yourself.


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