By PETE GOLIS
Even if you don’t live in Cotati or Rohnert Park, even if you know absolutely nothing about Karyn Pulley, you may want to vote for her. Pulley is the school board member targeted last week by a pair of robo-calls from an anonymous detractor.
In the meanness and pettiness that afflicts local politics from time to time, it has come down to this. Someone other than one of her rival candidates decided it was OK to take a free shot at a school board member who has served her community for a dozen years.
When this kind of politics reaches down to school board and city council elections, observed my colleague, Chris Coursey, “it is a very sad day.”
We are left to wonder if this anonymous person has the good sense to be embarrassed.
Now and always, voting is the best revenge. When politicians and political operatives find out there’s a price to pay for such tactics, they will stop employing them. People find countless reasons to choose one candidate or another, but they could do worse than vote for the candidate who shows respect for their intelligence.
In recent years, we have come to expect these dispiriting moments in election campaigns.
What’s more surprising in this election season is how strangely quiet it has been.
There are four reasons, I think:
First, they shouldn’t, but people not involved with one special interest group or another have more or less given up on state government. Too many years of dysfunction have taken their toll.
Second, in a region with overwhelming Democratic majorities, most of the congressional and state legislative campaigns are over before they start.
In time, the state’s new top-two primary system is supposed to make these races more competitive, but at least for this year, the names seem strangely familiar. As incumbents, they all have piles of campaign cash — another reminder of the disproportionate and inequitable influence of money in politics.
Fewer people want to serve in elective office.
In so many ways, we’ve taken the fun and satisfaction out of governing. It’s not fun being attacked in ways all out of proportion to the issues. Ask Karyn Pulley.
Running for local office has become expensive, too, leaving candidates to devote a lot of time to grubbing for donations.
And governing is difficult right now. In the backwash of the 2008 recession, elected officials don’t get to pursue all the great new ideas they have. They have to figure out the least destructive ways to cut programs that make a difference in people’s lives.
In Rohnert Park and Windsor, rival groups once battled as if life itself was at stake. In this election, the candidates for council were running unopposed in both cities. So, to save a few bucks on elections costs, the cities canceled the elections and certified the winners.
In the national election, reliably Democratic states such as California and reliably Republican states such as (insert your favorite here) are afterthoughts.
People talk about the eight or 10 battleground states, but the contest is really reduced to the battleground counties in those states.
Which makes it all the more obscene that more than $1.4 billion has been spent on behalf of the two major party candidates.
How many ways could $1.4 billion be spent in pursuit of a healthier society? Instead, the money is being squandered on advertising that seldom resembles an honest presentation of the choices before us.
In Sonoma County, a few contests are getting our attention.
In the 1st District, two candidates for county supervisor, Susan Gorin and John Sawyer, are busy trying to prove they don’t like one another, and they’re succeeding. (Meanwhile, folks in the Sonoma Valley are trying to adjust to the new and unhappy prospect of being represented by someone from Santa Rosa.)
In Santa Rosa, district elections (Measure Q) may change the balance of power in city government, but the campaigns have been surprisingly low-key. After the election, it will be instructive to see if the partisans go back to their old ways – or actually demonstrate some concern for the problem of under-represented neighborhoods.
Also in Santa Rosa, candidates for City Council recently debated whether two candidates with different views should pledge to get along with one another. Only in Santa Rosa could an offer to cooperate be made into a controversy.
We need to make politics fun again. We need to pay attention again. We need to create a political culture in which people take pride in serving in government.
We will do these things not because they’re polite and respectful but because we always get the government we deserve.
Pete Golis is a columnist for The Press Democrat. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.