The Independent’s 2006 Endorsements part II

This is the second installment of The Santa Barbara Independent’s endorsements for 2006. As we explained in last week’s issue, we are publishing our endorsements throughout a three-week period. Updated information can be found online at Next week we will include our endorsements of the city council races in Carpinteria and Goleta, as well as the Goleta Water Board. If you have not yet registered to vote, you still have a few days before the cutoff date of October 23. If you are registered, but would like an absentee ballot, you have until October 31.

Governor: Arnold Schwarzenegger

This endorsement might come as a surprise to many of our readers, especially given how vehemently we opposed the recall campaign that brought Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to power in the first place. Times change, however, and people change, too. Of course, all that changing is at the very essence of our concerns about the governor: Is he nothing more than a political weathervane, or is he a man who rethinks his positions with knowledge gained from experience?

The answer is probably both, though we have been impressed by a few of his policies that have remained remarkably consistent. From his earliest days in office, Schwarzenegger has promoted and supported environmental protections. And for much of his time in office he has shown a willingness to get along with the Democratic majority leadership in the State Capitol. This spirit of compromise is not a sign of weakness but rather a signal that democracy still has a chance to function here in California. In fact, such necessary compromise has been sorely missing during the last six years in Washington, D.C. The Republican majority in Congress and the White House have run an “our way or the highway” system of government that has just about run the rest of us and the world into a ditch.

In California, this approach to state politics has resulted in gridlock. Democrats, who have controlled the legislature for decades, refuse to consider any reality check on the gerrymandered mess they now use to assign state and national districts. Republicans, for their part, refuse to give on the two-thirds rule which requires a supermajority to approve a legislative vote on tax increases. This allows the minority to block any tax, leaving the initiative measure as the overused route to project-funding. This in turn has left the initiative process in the hands of the rich and the lobbyists. These are just two examples of why an administrative paralysis is tying California into knots. If we have any hope of changing this we must keep Arnold Schwarzenegger in the governor’s mansion.

Ever since he lost his campaign to pass a slate of four ballot initiatives last year (all of which we opposed), Schwarzenegger has shown potential for becoming a moderate, rational force. In the last year, Schwarzenegger has agreed to some very important legislation, not least of which are the cap on greenhouse gas emissions, the increase to the state’s minimum wage, and the funding for stem-cell research. He has worked so effectively with the Democratic majority that members of the Republican minority, dominated by a radical right wing, have complained privately that they might have done better with Gray Davis, who at least they could rant and rail against in public.

endorsements_cheatsheet.gifWe don’t pretend to know where Schwarzenegger will land on particular issues. It’s a mystery to us how he plans to enact real reform if he makes good on his campaign promise for no new taxes. And how moderate, how practical, how compassionate was it to veto a bill allowing non-profits to distribute condoms in prison? His refusal to honor a promise to amend his reform of the workers’ comp bill has left permanently disabled workers out in the cold. And though it is true that he has surrounded himself with many progressive advisors working in his office, he has also riddled his current administration with insurance executives and lobbyists.

So, big surprise, we don’t approve of everything Governor Schwarzenegger has done or might do. But we are convinced that if any Democrat occupies the governor’s mansion this next term — much less Phil Angelides who has shown little political leadership and who has run a foolish, hysterical campaign — we will never see either party back away from their polarizing positions.

With Angelides in Sacramento, there will be no rational reason for the Republican minority to come to the bargaining table or for the Democratic party to loosen its hold. As such, we will never get true political reform in the foreseeable future. And by then global warming may have rendered any talk about political reform a charming remnant from the distant past.

Sheriff: Bill Brown

During the primary, we endorsed Lompoc Police Chief Bill Brown in the race for sheriff of Santa Barbara County against incumbent Jim Anderson. We stand by that decision.

Perhaps the greatest challenge facing the next sheriff is how to end overcrowding at the County Jail. Twice as many prisoners as the 36-year-old building was designed for are now crammed into its cells. Seventy percent of that population is still awaiting trial. Many of these men and women are still forced to sleep on the floors, violating a long-standing court order. No one can easily solve this in a climate where money is short and voters are reluctant. Thirteen grand juries have urged the county government to do something and four sheriffs have tried — all came up empty. The political maestro himself, former sheriff Jim Thomas, saw his proposal to build a large Santa Maria jail financed by a sales tax defeated by voters in 1999. Our present sheriff, Jim Anderson, has spent the last four years backing an even more costly plan with not even a defined funding source. The county supervisors are justifiably terrified by the expense. Yet, the situation can no longer be ignored. Our public safety, our sense of justice, and our basic humanity are at risk.

Bill Brown has suggested innovative, yet practical ideas to relieve jail overcrowding. His plans include small, incremental steps which will at first alleviate the problem without extravagant costs. His plans do not include turning out on the street possibly serious offenders, something Jim Anderson unilaterally decided to do last August. This approach was neither collaborative nor a good idea. And it didn’t go over too well with the DA’s office, with judges, or with other law enforcement agencies. Of course, eventually the big-ticket item will have to be faced. This county must have a second jail in the north. But of the two candidates for sheriff, we feel that Lompoc Police Chief Bill Brown is most equipped with the essential ingenuity, initiative, and collaborative skills needed to build the public consensus required to get the job done.

Chief Bill Brown’s ability to work with divergent members of the community is tried, true, and impressive. For the last 10 years, as chief of the under funded and understaffed Lompoc police force, Brown has reached out effectively, involving the community in the mission of his department. Early in his term, Brown lost nearly half his staff to other law enforcement agencies. Part of this was due to Lompoc’s inability to compete financially, but, in part it stemmed from friction between Brown and his troops. Brown addressed this tension head-on. He made a concerted effort to improve communications with his officers. That, coupled with a recent pay increase, has stemmed the flood.

We endorsed Sheriff Jim Anderson four years ago. At that time, he promised to run a less politically embroiled department than his predecessor Thomas. In many respects, he’s made good on that promise. During his first years in office, as deputies worked several high-profile cases with professional efficiency, Sheriff Anderson seemed to be handling the job well. But as time went on, the deeper political currents of county politics eluded him. He became bogged down by tussles — political and otherwise. His decisions appeared increasingly naïve. What started out as a minor scuffle between wealthy members of the Sheriff’s Council, a private fundraising group, turned into a political mess. Worse, his public comments, such as a willingness to allow his deputies, already understaffed, to begin arresting undocumented citizens, are just wrongheaded. Jim Anderson has been an honest and decent sheriff, but the complexities and challenges of the office, especially those posed by jail overcrowding, require a more politically skillful approach — not the skills of a personally ambitious politician, but the determined skills of a law enforcement leader.

With 28 years as an experienced, highly trained senior lawman, Chief Bill Brown certainly has the skills to encourage confidence in his leadership and to serve the department and the county well.

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