Of course, I’m for Dan Schnur for Secretary of State. I’m in the media, and he’s our candidate. We all know him. We’ve relied upon him for a quick quote for years. He’s a super-nice guy, returns phone calls fast, and is thoughtful and plays it straight. How could I not vote him?
I can’t possibly be for Dan Schnur, can I? He’s the favored candidate of our state’s political media, which feeds us polls and old, bogus narratives about the state. Schnur shares some of the media’s shallowness – they both make a lot of noise about low-rent political faux-scandals; they like cheap shots (“Remove that politician because he was registered to vote at a home he owned, not the home where he lived just a few miles outside his district” is the latest). They rail against political money, as if there’s any way to stop such money from flowing under this Supreme Court. And they pooh pooh the idea of making necessary changes to the state’s dysfunctional governing system as unrealistic.
Nah, of course, I’m for Dan Schnur. He’s a political independent and I’m a political independent. And we Decline to States (or No Party Preference folks, as he’ll be on the ballot) are terribly underrepresented in California – one-fifth of the registered voting population and only a tiny fraction of elected officials. Dan’s been supportive of election changes designed to give independents more power, and now he’s putting his candidacy where his mouth is. You have to admire that.
But c’mon, how can I vote for Dan Schnur? He’s selling snake oil with this independent business. Research and California’s own experience both demonstrate that when you weaken parties in the ways that Schnur supports, you weaken politics and civic engagement. Schnur is peddling the same bad medicine – the parties and politicians are bad — that has been good for political consultants like Schnur (who make money from filling the void left by our weak parties) but bad for California politics and civic engagement.
Nah, that’s too cynical. I’ve had the privilege of speaking to Prof. Schnur’s classes at UC Berkeley and USC, and he’s a terrific teacher. He cares deeply about the state and the next generation, and about getting people involved in public service. And in his class, he’s not quite so jaded about politicians as he sounds as a candidate. We need public officials who can communicate clearly with the public. And he has a passion for teaching and communication. A position like Secretary of State is a good fit.
Yeah, but there’s something about the essence of what he’s communicating now that’s deeply wrong. California actually needs exactly the opposite of what Schnur is selling: we need stronger parties and more ties that bind us together. Instead, Schnur is pitching us political independence, which just strengthens the power of the sort of big-money that he says he’s against. Schnur’s also heightens the power of the big, impersonal media. Politics is best taught face-to-face, person-to-person; parties are the best institutions humankind has to teach ourselves about politics. Schnur is the wrong professor to teach this class.
But Schnur is a great candidate. How could a political consultant not be? He’s already more visible than the people he’s running against. He’s likely to be smarter about getting the public’s attention than his opponents. Maybe I have to vote for him.
But there are four other strong candidates for Secretary of State. Derek Cressman has been advocating for political reform for ages. Alex Padilla is one of the smartest people you’ll ever meet. Leland Yee has been a force for improving access to the system, and we wouldn’t have had online voter registration when we did without him. And Pete Peterson (yes, I know, too bad he’s a Republican) is a terrific communicator who knows more about California, its communities and the hard work of civic engagement than just about anyone in the state; he could transform the office.
Heck, there are five people here who would be good statewide officials. Could we have them share the job, as a terrific five-man committee? Or since, there are so few compelling candidates for other statewide offices, can’t we break up this group of five and spread them out to other seats?
Then I wouldn’t have to argue with myself about Dan Schnur.