Letters + Opinion » The Town Dandy

Gutless Wonders



Though we may have a trick or two up our sleeves next week, this issue pretty much marks the end of our wall-to-wall local election coverage. Three issues, and we actually got a pretty big bite of the thing. We regret that we didn't get to some interesting and/or important races. Once again, and to our continuing shame, the city of Fortuna kind of dropped off the map for us. Likewise, the always lively goings-on in Humboldt County's second-string towns -- Blue Lake, Ferndale, Rio Dell, Trinidad -- were opaque to the Journal community in this election cycle. Alas, there are only so many days and so many pages.

There are only so many days and so many pages. So that makes us even gladder that we didn't bother to waste either by writing about the phony play-pretend races on the Nov. 4 ballot -- the election of our next representative in the California State Assembly and the United States Congress. My fellow prisoners, it has already been preordained, and it's as certain a thing as you are ever likely to find in this life: Arcata Democrat Wes Chesbro will be elected to the former, and St. Helena Democrat Mike Thompson will be reelected to the latter. Not even the fabled "dead girl-live boy" scenario could prevent these things from coming to pass.

It's gotten so bad that even the Republicans no longer put up a fight. They almost always find a volunteer to sacrifice himself for the cause, just to keep up appearances, but no one with any pull actually bothers to put any resources behind the thing, because everyone knows it is hopeless. This time around, the lambs are: Jim Pell, a relatively recent Eureka transplant who stepped up against Chesbro, and Zane Starkewolf, a young Davis man who bills himself as a "Green Republican," presumably in a hail-mary effort to patch together a crazy quilt coalition worth 35 percent of the vote.

No doubt they are worthy individuals. Their opponents, the crown princes, have likewise been rumored to possess commendable qualities. But -- gentlemen! -- you ask too much of your district's humble newspaper writers. We are under professional orders to take all sides seriously, to listen carefully to what each party has to say, to pretend that it all matters. And so a sickly, defeated hypocrisy creeps into our work, because our professional standards are set at odds with our common fricking sense. What was that you were saying about your campaign promises concerning industrial hemp, Madam Candidate? OK, well, here's a newsflash: It doesn't matter. The election is done, sweetheart! There is no election!

At least there hasn't been for the last 12 years. Not on the North Coast of California. Not for any legislative seat in Sacramento or Washington. The Democratic Party bosses anoint their candidates well in advance of the primary, and those candidates go on to certain victory in the fall. Why? Partly because the legislators in Sacramento have mastered the art of drawing district lines in such a way as to dispense with the electorate altogether. Partly because the California Republican Party has been busy slitting its throat over that same period of time. So: No election for you. If you want to be completely, brutally honest about it, your representatives are chosen the way Mexican political leaders were chosen up until about 2000. The old ones choose the new ones, then linger until their turn comes around again.

Should you care? The district has a pronounced but not too dramatic leftward lean. Mike Thompson probably represents something like the Platonic ideal of the median First Congressional District voter. Why shouldn't we just take what they give us, as long as it's reasonably palatable? But democracy, when it happens, is actually thrilling. It's amazing what can happen when there is an actual, regionwide debate about who we are and what we want to accomplish. If you remember the Democratic primary in 1996, when carpetbagger Michaela Alioto defeated transplanted Humboldter Carol Ruth Silver and a host of other candidates, after a grueling series of town-hall style debates, you might remember this. Otherwise, you'll likely have no idea.

There's only two things that are going to change the current state of affairs. One: Maybe the next round of redistricting ties us to Redding and environs, and certain domination from Central Valley Republicans. This is unpalatable, and maybe not only for Democrats.

But it'll be no more than what we deserve if the local grassroots Democratic Party doesn't get off its ass and stop kissing the ring. Other places with insuperable Democratic majorities still have electoral politics. Just about any big city does, actually. It's just that they also have politicians and interest groups willing to come up from below and take a serious shot at the king. In this day and age, Humboldters are just too lazy. Or mellow. Or servile. Or something.

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