Editorial: Closer to One-Party Government By Becky O'Malley

Tuesday December 06, 2005

So Gov. Schwarzenegger has hired Susan Kennedy, formerly a top aide to Gray Davis as cabinet secretary and deputy chief of staff, to be his own chief of staff. And in a little noticed corollary move, his wife and political confidant Maria Shriver has hired Daniel Zingale, another Davis deputy, to be her chief of staff. Sacramento is a pretty cozy place, isn’t it? Why are we not surprised? Well, for one thing, Justin DeFreitas did a prize-winning cartoon for this page, way back when, around the time of the recall election, which depicted Davis morphing into Schwarzenegger in the space of eight panels. We should just re-run that one reversed. As they say in France, plus ça change, plus la même chose: the more things change, the more they remain the same. 

Since Davis left office, Kennedy has distinguished herself on the Public Utilities Commission by being a staunch supporter of what used to be called “the interests”—Big Energy in all its manifestations—against the little consumer. Big business is still calling the shots in California, as it has with a few periodic reprieves since the days when Upton Sinclair was defeated in his campaign for governor by a smear campaign well-orchestrated by the same kinds of business interests who now back the Davis-Schwarzenegger regime. Stopping Sinclair created the same kind of coalition between conservative Democrats and Republicans. 

Money is now the game in politics at every level, and everything else is just window-dressing. The Republican Party nationally and in California has mastered the art of making all kinds of special interest voters think that “we’re on your side” while picking their pockets. 

This time, even some conservative Republicans feel like they’ve been shafted by the Kennedy choice. Kennedy is firmly right-wing on economic questions (she boasts of having voted for all four of Schwarzenegger’s dreadful anti-labor initiatives) but she has the reputation of being more liberal on social issues. Personally, she’s an out lesbian in a committed relationship—she married her partner in Hawaii, under that state’s pioneering marriage law, similar to the one Schwarzenegger vetoed. She’s also been a staunch supporter of abortion rights. There could be no clearer proof that the greedy bi-partisan class of political activists cares not a whit about the so-called “wedge” issues that they’ve used to sucker fringe supporters when they needed their votes.  

And we need to look no further than Oakland to hear another version of the same old song, this time sung by nominal Democrats. Jerry Brown made much of his outsider sympathies when he decided to use the mayor’s job as a base for his future political fantasies. “We the people” indeed: Oakland has had a government by, of, and for real estate speculators since he first took office there. Parks, schools, downtown retail—you name it, it’s gotten worse in Oakland since Jerry came to town. Having sold off as much of Oakland as he can, Brown is now moving on to see what he can extract from the state attorney general’s job.  

Berkeley voters, too, thought that a change of factions in their mayor’s office might mean a change to that city’s planning department’s habit of making sure that speculators extract every dime of profit from every building site, but guess again. The cartoon of Shirley Dean morphing into Tom Bates would be harder to draw than Davis-into-Schwarzenegger, but it would be just as valid. We’ve had a continuation of the big-ugly-box-boom for people who can pay top dollar for rent, yet we’ve gotten almost no more housing for Berkeley’s low-income families. The rental boxes have started morphing into condos: a bad investment for individual buyers, but it lets builders off the hook as the rental market saturates and maintenance of their tacky structures starts to be needed.  

Two more prongs of Bates/Dean’s pro-speculator strategy are moving forward now: gutting Berkeley’s historic resource preservation law to create more building sites in the beleaguered flatlands (a process which started in the Dean era), and turning more of central Berkeley over to the University of California to become a satellite office park for affiliated research businesses (q.v. Dean’s memorandum of understanding with UC). And the rich get richer once more. Professor Teece has already banked his profits from investing in Patrick Kennedy’s Berkeley building projects. 

Only at the federal level do we see a small shift away from the trend toward one-party government for the benefit of the investor class. Some of the Democrats who were the loudest supporters of the President’s disastrous charge into Iraq are having a few second thoughts, too little too late, but better than nothing. We might hope that the courage lately re-captured by a few individuals like Congressman Murtha could be extended to other issues. There was a time when Democrats called themselves the party of the people, and perhaps some of them would still like that role. We’ll know there’s been a real conversion experience when all of the important Democrats in Congress come out four-square against the equally disastrous economic policies of the Bush regime: pro-wealthy tax cuts like the repeal of the estate tax, and spending cuts which attempt to balance the budget on the backs of the poor.