(Editor’s Note: I wish this editor’s note was an April’s Fools joke, but, unfortunately, it is not — John Wildermuth’s column here is his last for Fox and Hounds. John has been pulled back onto the political reporting team at the San Francisco Chronicle so he must forgo his writing for F&H. John’s contributions to the site have been immeasurable and helped us to achieve a solid reputation for incisive commentary from different perspectives. You can continue to follow John’s political reporting at the Chronicle www.sfgate.com or he can be followed on Twitter @jfwildermuth. Perhaps, we can at least coax him into writing his annual Black Bart Award nomination piece at the end of the year.)
With election season getting into gear, voters across California can start being leery of turning on the television or going to their mailbox for fear of being assaulted by one political ad or another.
All that pointing with pride and viewing with alarm can be hard to take, especially when combined with the usual ad hominem attacks and incumbents out there warning, “Après moi le deluge.” There’s a real temptation to just say “A plague o’ both your houses” and hole up with Netflix until after Nov. 4
(Add a couple of foreign phrases to a story, along with a Shakespeare reference, and you too can sound like Jerry Brown).
But since it’s still true that if you don’t vote you can’t complain, here are a few points to remember when it’s time to pick a candidate this year.
1. Be wary of anyone who has a 100 percent rating on anything.
Sure, it’s great that someone has a perfect score from the Cute Puppies PAC, but it’s way too easy to substitute knee-jerk support for labor unions, the NRA, taxpayer groups, the education lobby or even the American Library Association for the need to make hard, unpopular decisions on individual bills.
2. Lower taxes or more services. Pick one.
Nothing wrong with a candidate calling for lower taxes, but make him say what programs he’s going to cut to make up for the lost cash. More services are a fine call for a candidate, as long as she says where the money will come from. And, no, “cutting waste, fraud and abuse” doesn’t count.
3. Costs will always go up.
You know how your grocery, gas, cable bill and other expenses seem to grow every year? It’s the same for government and don’t let any candidate tell you different.
4. The sewer plant has to go somewhere.
And that applies to freeways, railroad tracks and neighboring skyscrapers. Bad things happen to good states, cities and legislative districts. Someone has to deal with the, ah, less wanted aspects of modern life and sometimes it’s going to be you, regardless of what a lawmaker promises.
5. Elect a choice, not an echo.
If you want a governor or legislator who faithfully votes the mind of his district or state, elect a pollster not a politician. You want someone smart enough to know what’s best for his constituents, even – or especially — if they don’t.
6. Good ideas aren’t partisan.
Just because Democrats don’t have to pay attention to the Republicans in the state Legislature doesn’t mean they shouldn’t. And the same applies to voters.
7. Don’t elect a Republican or a Democrat. Vote for a legislator.
If someone brags they always follow the party line, watch out. Without lawmakers willing to compromise and agree to the best deal possible that moves an issue along, nothing gets done and the state Legislature becomes Congress. Which has happened.
8. It’s the state, stupid.
You may live in Fort Bragg, San Francisco, San Bruno, Whittier, Pasadena, Los Angeles or El Centro, but you’re still in California. What’s best for California might not always be what’s best for your hometown or Assembly district, but a growing, improving state is still good news for everyone. Vote for someone who realizes that.
9. The future extends beyond the end of a term.
Gov. Jerry Brown has been taking hits for supporting high-speed rail and a Delta tunnels water plan, but, like it or not, he’s got a vision for California’s future and is willing to push to make it come true. California is going to be here for a good long time and that’s why we need to elect people whose vision extends past the next election.
10. Vote for someone who’s not afraid to lose.
California needs politicians who are willing to stand up for what they believe is right and what they’re convinced is best for the state, even if it costs them an election. It’s always easy to go along to get along and that can be the easy path to a long career in politics. A long, useless career in politics.
Finally, while politics, like any other profession, has its share of crooks, grifters and general bad apples (See Yee, Leland; Cunningham, Duke; Calderon, Ron), most people run for office for the right reasons.
They’re willing to put up with the lack of privacy, the endless round of rubber chicken dinners, the time away from their families, the nasty campaign hit pieces and all the other problems and irritations of a life in politics because they truly want to make people’s lives better.
And the best of them manage to do just that.
John Wildermuth is a longtime writer on California politics.