Mimicking democracy

Given the way the districts have been drawn, the candidates’ night at the Chico City Council chambers Monday (Oct. 23) was just a pantomime of the democratic process. No one was likely to beat the incumbents in these districts considered “safe” for Republicans.

But the undemocratic predictability of the outcomes did not deter some 120 local political junkies from showing up to hear the candidates reiterate the generic notions of their respective parties.

The Republican candidates were against government spending and for tax cuts, against environmental laws that interfere with business interests and for the war in Iraq. The candidates challenging them—Democratic, Libertarian and Green—urged tax reform, which generally meant higher taxes for corporations and the wealthy. They favored environmental protections, and they spoke up for labor, for health-care reform, for higher wages, and against the conduct of the war.

Moderated by Carol Burr of the League of Women Voters and featuring questions from a press panel, the event began with candidates for the Second Congressional District, the seat Wally Herger has held for 20 years. Herger began by pledging his commitment to the war on terrorism and touting his vote for a $3 billion, 700-mile fence on the 1,300-mile border with Mexico. He advocated a guest worker program that would bring in Mexican workers to harvest the nation’s crops.

AJ Sekhon, Herger’s Democratic challenger, extolled his educational attainments, with degrees in medicine and law. He said he knew what it was to be a soldier, having served in both Iraq wars.

E. Kent Hinesley, the Libertarian candidate, expressed outrage at Herger’s vote for the Military Commissions Act, signed into law by the president last week.

Herger defended his vote, denying that the act suspends the right of habeas corpus for American citizens. “Known or suspected terrorists should not have the right of habeas corpus, anyway,” he said.

Hinseley held up a copy of the Military Commissions Act and said, “There is no clear language here that exempts American citizens from the suspension of habeas corpus.”

Sekhon said that “by enacting this law, we’ve become a mockery in the world. This will be overturned by the Supreme Court. It’s time for Americans to wake up.”

Herger argued that tax revenues rise when taxes are cut, though he failed to answer questions about the enormous increase in the national debt. He extolled the economic health of the nation and said that, “while Dr. Sekhon may have an impressive education, he knows nothing about economics.”

Of the war in Iraq, Sekhon said: “Let the generals run the war. We could finish the terrorists within a month, but the politicians don’t want the battle to end. Too much money is being made.”

Herger resented suggestions that his votes were influenced by campaign donations, argued for more oil drilling in the U.S., and defended the Iraq war. “Wars are never pretty,” Herger said, comparing Iraq casualties with American deaths during the Civil War, World War I and World War II. He did not liken the war to Vietnam, however.

When the time expired, Herger looked startled when Sekhon swept him into a bear hug.

In the race for state Senate District 4, the incumbent, Sam Aanestad, a dentist turned politician, said he opposed public funding of elections because he does not want to see taxpayer money go to “just any Tom, Dick and Harry.” He believes environmental restrictions slow economic development, and he opposes Proposition 87, the ballot initiative that would impose an extraction tax on oil companies, much like similar taxes in other oil-producing states.

On the subject of prisons, Aanestad expressed admiration for an Arizona sheriff who addressed the inmate overpopulation problem in his county by dressing prisoners in pink underwear and imprisoning them in tent camps in the desert. “I don’t want bad people on the same street with my granddaughters,” he said.

Paul Singh, Aanestad’s Democratic challenger, made little effort to hide his contempt for his opponent. “That’s corporate America, sitting right there, folks,” he said, jerking a thumb in Aanestad’s direction. Singh supports the Prop. 87 tax on California oil. On the issue of sending Northern California water south, Singh said that the North State should be reimbursed for this precious resource.

Robert Vizzard, candidate of the Green Party, made an impassioned argument for universal health care and for tax reform, arguing that the current collusion of the two majority parties has shifted the tax burden away from the top 10 percent of taxpayers and onto the middle class. California imprisons more of its population than anywhere else in the world, a system Vizzard referred to as “the prison/industrial complex.” He also called for campaign reform, beginning with the demand that television stations provide free air time for political candidates.

In the California Assembly District 3 race, Democratic challenger Mickey Harrington and Republican incumbent Rick Keene revealed traditional differences between their parties. Keene argued against taxation and increased government spending. Harrington said he, too, believed in balanced budgets but said some of the cuts Keene has supported have hurt recipients of workers’ compensation who have had their benefits cut in half. “They lose their house, their car, and even their families,” Harrington said.

Keene dismissed calls for universal health care as “socialized medicine” and defended his vote against Assembly Bill 32, which would reduce carbon emissions in the state. Keene said the bill had failed a cost/benefit analysis and that global warming was based on “questionable science.” AB 32 has been signed into law by Gov. Schwarzenegger.

Harrington argued that “we are responsible to take care of Mother Earth” and advocated development of alternative fuels.

Keene opposes increases in the minimum wage because those increases make it harder for his children to find entry-level jobs. “We are competing in a global marketplace,” he said, “and wage increases make us less competitive.”

“I don’t believe in a minimum wage,” Harrington replied, “I believe in a living wage. When working people earn a paycheck, they spend that money, and that churns the economy, but this system favors the upper 10 percent.”

Three college-age kids, conspicuous by their youth, had viewed the event from seats in the second row. One of them, David Boahrer of San Bernardino County, took notes for his class, using his skateboard as a writing surface. “I didn’t like that Wally guy.” he said. “He seemed like a dick. I really liked AJ. He seems intelligent.”

An older woman nearby whispered to her friend, “I liked him, too. If he just wasn’t a Democrat, I might vote for him.”