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Fear Factor

Amid a backdrop of nationwide jitters and several crucial election contests, Metro Santa Cruz offers its endorsements for the Nov. 5 election

LET'S FACE IT, folks--ever since Dubya pulled a coup d'état in the 2000 election, fear has been making its big political comeback. Fear that democracy is dead. Fear of Middle Eastern bogeymen. Fear of joblessness. Fear of losing abortion rights. Fear of guns. Fear of fear of guns. Fear that we're all going to hell in a handbasket fast.

Since Sept. 11, 2001, these fears have been whipped into a nationwide angst--still reeling from the terrorist attacks, we have since endured the war-on-terrorism frenzy, anthrax attacks, warmongering on Iraq, a serial-murdering sniper and a seemingly constant state of yellow alert.

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Election Selections: The Metro Santa Cruz Cheat Sheet.

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With election day nearing, it's worth considering the role that fear plays in the manufacture of political consent. For all our jokes about Bush being a chimp, we know that the people in his administration are no fools. Their immediate goal is fortifying their position in this fall's election, especially because with redistricting boundaries kicking in, whatever party gets elected is more likely to control new districts for the next 10 years, making this election particularly pivotal for those with long-term agendas.

With research showing that low voter turnouts benefit Republicans the most, it's enough to make you suspect that all this "Angst Over America" stuff is just so much spin, designed to keep voters afraid and inclined to vote for law and order--if they dare leave the house.

One thing's for sure: If you don't get out and vote this Nov. 5, then one fear in particular--that democracy is dead--will be that much closer to realization.

With that in mind, here's a rundown of Metro Santa Cruz's endorsements for next Tuesday's big event.

Congressional Races

14th Congressional District

Recommendation: Anna Eshoo

Once upon a time, Santa Cruz County all fell within the 17th district. But as the population increased, district boundaries got smaller, which explains why this fall the mountainous North County will be drawn into the 14th Congressional district, thus giving residents a new representative in Congress, no matter who wins this race.

Since 1992, Anna Eshoo (D-Palo Alto) has represented the 14th District, and we recommend that she continue so doing. One of 24 California Democrats who recently opposed Bush's request for a resolution authorizing use of force, Eshoo is pushing for solutions to the soft economy, including tax credits for those who've lost value in their 401k retirement plans. Eshoo supports raising minimum wage and expanding health care, and, noting that offshore oil drilling could be a threat as Bush crafts an energy policy, she wants to de-emphasize dependence on oil and encourage renewable energy.

Meanwhile, her challengers, Republican Joe Nixon and Libertarian Andrew Carver, both newcomers to the political game, are pushing predictable party platforms. Nixon is all about national security and homeland defense, while suggesting more road building as a solution to the economic downturn. He supports applying Silicon Valley's technology to federal government operation and installing web cameras to record conversations in all congressional offices.

As for Carver, he supports lower taxes, less bureaucracy and more personal choice in schools and health care, and favors market-based solutions to the environment.

17th Congressional District

Recommendation: Sam Farr

Incumbent Sam Farr has presided over this Democratic stronghold since 1993, his decisions guided by an underpinning mantra of three E's--the economy, education and the environment. This fall, Farr scored big with peace-loving locals when he joined Anna Eshoo, Mike Honda, Barbara Lee and 20 other California Democrats in voting against the authorization of the use of military force against Iraq. All of which gives us another extra-good reason to send him back to Washington, where he has unfinished business, including creating a bikeway around the bay, implementing a national model on hunger, making the Los Padres National Forest part of the wilderness, protecting the coast and creating federal buildings and jobs at Terrace Point.

In the face of all this, Farr's challengers--Republican Clint Engler, the Green Party's Ray Glock Grueneich, Libertarian Jascha Lee and write-in Al Shugart--don't stand a chance. Another reason to vote for Farr? He welcomes statements by local cities and counties on federal matters, as well as the usual letters, emails and phone calls from concerned individuals.

27th Assembly District

Recommendation: John Laird

What's weird about this race is that Republican voters jettisoned moderate Stephany Aguilar, currently the mayor of Scotts Valley, in favor of hard-liner Chuck Carter, who has unsuccessfully tried to win this seat twice before. Still, that choice should make life easier for Democrat nominee John Laird, who was mayor of Santa Cruz twice and a City Council member for nine years. Laird's main challenge? Getting to know the issues that concern the 50,000 residents of Morgan Hill and Coyote Valley, who are now in the newly redrawn 27th District, with its strong link to the coast.

A strong advocate for higher education, coastal protection, environmental justice and an improved health-care system, Laird would be the first openly gay man to be elected to the California Legislature.

28th Assembly District

Recommendation: Simon Salinas

Democrat Simon Salinas survived an extra-tough first term--a budget disaster and a giant fire in the capitol building caused by a kooky truck driver. But what does he really have to show for his time there?

For one thing, consistency. The son of migrant farmworkers, Salinas declared March 18 -24, 2002, the Week of the Migrant Child and introduced a bill, which became law this September, to help fund migrant farmworker housing. He's also gone to bat for affordable housing, economic development and ethnically reflective public representation. As a result, he's backed by everyone from firefighters and teachers to legislators.

Salinas' opponent Republican Jane Howard also grew up on a farm and did time on the Gilroy Unified School District board of trustees. But her conservative values--local control of education spending, more money for police--are out of whack with a district where almost 60 percent of voters are Latino.

Local Races

Santa Cruz County Supervisor, District 3

Recommendation: Mardi Wormhoudt

Going through a runoff has got to be psychologically tough on both incumbent Mardi Wormhoudt and challenger Mark Primack. That said, the runoff has given voters a chance to examine the political records and claims of both candidates.

Primack's position on the need for more affordable housing rides a high wave of emotion, in which everything, it seems, needs to change, beginning with the supeship. But we see no evidence that building more houses would lower market prices, given the desirability of this area, desirability for which Wormhoudt can hardly be blamed. Furthermore, Wormhoudt has supported every subsidized affordable housing project that has come before her.

Judging from Primack's voting record, he has a lot to learn about coalition building, and we worry that he would trigger a swing to the right on the board of supes, given his conservative position on living wage ordinances and social service funding.

Meanwhile, Wormhoudt's record shows strong support for environmental and neighborhood protection, labor and civil rights, health care and social services, Unlike Primack, who supports highway widening, Wormhoudt favors rail line purchase and improved bus and road service--a sane approach if we are dedicated to breaking dependence on oil.

Wormhoudt's recent resolution condemning the war on Iraq shows she connects the dots between the local economic crisis and federal warmongering--a skill we believe is desperately needed at all levels of government. As for Primack, we know him to be a caring and dedicated politician, whose ideas could work in the city--if he stays to finish what he began when he was elected to City Council in 2000.

Santa Cruz City Council

Recommendation: Tim Fitzmaurice, Thomas Leavitt, Mike Rotkin

With this year's field of 12 candidates largely dominated by nuts and blandness, word on the street is that the three candidates with an existing political record--Tim Fitzmaurice, Cynthia Mathews, Mike Rotkin--will be returned. But how, we ask, would this tried and true threesome shift the balance of power on the council?

Fitzmaurice, the only candidate to get the endorsement of the Santa Cruz Action Network, alienated some supporters this summer when he voted for stricter downtown ordinances. But he also voiced concern for the elderly and mentally disabled, and has worked hard to protect the environment and the poorest in our community.

As for Mathews, the top fundraiser with a broad range of Mathews' endorsements, we believe her when she says she wants to get as many people as possible working together, but fear she may be too readily swayed by business interests as we sink deeper into an economic Dark Age.

As for Rotkin, while he shares many of Mathews' endorsements, he represents a broader range of interests, with his finger on the campus, as well as in the business and union pie, thus making him, to our mind, a more balanced bet.

Which brings us to Thomas Leavitt, the only candidate to get the Green Party endorsement. Active on homeless and living wage issues, Leavitt's entrepreneurial background shows he's not ignorant of business concerns. Some may argue that his lack of political experience makes him an unknown quantity, but we're ready to go out on a limb on this one, as we think his progressive politics will be a vital asset to the council as it navigates the city through dark times.

Local Measures

Measure Q

Recommendation: Yes on Q

In a more perfect world, the effort to fund promotion of tourism through a bump in the hotel tax would have taken a broader view of the community's welfare. Proponents would have worked in partnership with other sectors to forge consensus and address questions about accountability and contributing a fair share to the range of services that support a tourist economy--particularly when a dangerously irresponsible campaign to repeal the utility tax precedes it by one letter up the ballot.

Perhaps the sponsors of Measure Q, rightly or wrongly, feared that discussing competing claims on hotel taxes would lubricate the slippery slope for proceeds to become a slush fund for unfunded or underfunded social initiatives. Or that in the divisive world of Santa Cruz politics the process would have reached no acceptable result.

So here we have a relatively innocuous little increase on the fee that hotel guests pay at checkout time. For a $100 hotel room, they'll pay a dollar more.

It's good manners for guests to contribute to a community when they stay overnight, and the tax will go to fund initiatives that generate, encourage and support tourism, the county's second largest industry. Let's face it, jobs are a good thing in these times. And we can't count on education, agriculture or high technology to employ the full lot of us--especially when those sectors face challenges as well.

So, while you may disagree with the way in which the entire political establishment was gang-pressed into supporting a 1-point bump in the hotel rates, the community shouldn't be penalized for the sins of a few.

If the hotel industry wants to raise its rates a buck a night and turn the money over to the Santa Cruz County Conference and Visitors Council, the voters should not stand in their way. It's painless for those of us who live here and is more likely to bring benefits that we'll enjoy too than it is to create any unpleasantness that we'll regret. Besides, good restaurants, viable retail, a healthy local economy and enhanced visitor amenities benefit locals as well--especially when out-of-towners help pay the freight.

But whatever you do, don't let the false assumption that this could be some kind of "safety net" sway your no vote on P.

Measure P

Recommendation: No on P

How many different ways do we have to tell you that repealing the utility tax is a really, really bad idea? If, in the interests of making a short-term saving, you don't take our advice, then our fair city is about to open up an ugly Pandora's box of budgetary losses. So vote no to protect fire department paramedics; your kid's school crossing guards; police patrols downtown and at the beach; teen center and youth programs; marine and beach rescue programs; the Civic Auditorium; pothole, street and bridge repairs; flood control; storm drains; and senior programs.

Measure S

Recommendation: No on S

While this Watsonville measure never mentions fluoride by name, playing instead on our understandable fear of foreign additives in our water, Measure S is clearly a campaign against water fluoridation.

Meanwhile, three-fourths of Watsonville's elementary students have signs of tooth decay, and a large number of adults in the community have no access to dental care at all.

With a long list of local health-care organizations--including the Pajaro Valley Community Health Trust, Dientes Community Dental Clinic, Salud Para La Gente, the Santa Cruz County Medical Society and the Monterey Bay Dental Society--testifying to the benefits of fluoridation, and with an even longer list of health-care professionals, dentists, business and community leaders, including City Council candidate Cynthia Mathews, opposed to Measure S, we feel that Watsonville residents should say no to a fluoridation ban.

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From the October 30-November 6, 2002 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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