Every so often, a person like Mark Jensen runs for elected office. He or she has no political experience—in fact, sees politics as anathema—and thinks so far outside the box that there’s no question of remaining an outsider once on the inside. Compromise? Modest proposals? Nope. “Game over!” “Next!”
It’s easy to write off Jensen or John Martinez as kooky candidates. Martinez would use the District 2 Assembly seat to wage war on drug cartels. Jensen, up for the South County seat on the Board of Supervisors, calls for revamping our democracy from the presidency down, as well as forcing Southern California to desalinate the ocean for its water supply.
OK, so it’s really easy to write ’em off.
Yet, there are times when going radical seems the only way to change a dysfunctional establishment. I’m not talking about revolution, just revolutionary thinking—outside the box, where there’s a thin line between inspired and insane.
Our political structure has become an interlocking set of businesses. Growth relates to market share: the percentage of individual income each entity can take. Profits are called “reserves”; losses are called “deficits.” The product, ostensibly, is service; the byproducts are job security and control.
We do get our say, which is why Jensen and Martinez at least have the chance to get “hired.” I’ll put in my fraction-of-a-cent’s worth Tuesday, as I have in every election but one since turning 18, because that’s the input accorded me. In the end, any switch we make via local election or state initiative gets absorbed by the bureaucracy and only makes it stronger. The more Byzantine the system becomes, the more essential the jobs of those who can navigate it.
That conclusion hit home at the last Chico City Council meeting, when Finance Director Jennifer Hennessy explained the structure behind the structural deficit.
The city has 230 funds. Two hundred and thirty. That’s like having 230 bank accounts. Each falls under a particular category with particular rules. Even the broadest one, the General Fund, has limits on its use.
Department heads spend a chunk of their time accounting for their employees. If, say, a planner spends part of his week on a capital project and part on a proposed subdivision, his hours get charged to different funds. His paycheck is but one of 400-some the city cuts biweekly—and Chico has a relatively small operation.
So it’s no easy matter to offset a deficit. Trim expenses across the board? Ah, not so fast. Earmarks can be very specific. Some of the money paid out brings in other monies, so we won’t save unless we spend. That impacts priorities: Cutting a key service (say, downtown police patrols) is easier than forgoing an ancillary benefit (say, cataloging trees, for which the city gets a matching grant).
Which brings us back to Jensen. His approach to the budget is fund public safety “to the max” and put everything else on the chopping block.
Simple … and simplistic.
County behavioral health services reduce the burdens on law enforcement. Mentally ill individuals denied their treatment tend to wind up in police cruisers once their serious symptoms manifest.
The county faces a shortfall in mental-health funding because it comes from the state, and lag time causes cash-flow problems. Yet there’s logic in forgoing ounces of prevention for a pound of intervention.
Governmental logic, that is. Corporate logic.
That’s why antiestablishment candidates are so refreshing … and maddening. We wish their quick and easy solutions were doable. In the end, we know they’re not. At least not yet.