WEIRD AND WEIRDER: Politics, as we’ve been told, makes for strange bedfellows. But the coalition Sheriff Bill Brown has assembled in support of his proposed new North County jail — and the half-cent sales tax increase that entails — goes well beyond mere opportunistic political cohabitation. Brown has managed to get the proverbial lion and the lamb to lie down together in a temporary state of connubial bliss. In so doing, he’s pushed the outer limits of animal husbandry into the foothills of political bestiality. What else can you call it when Das Williams and Dale Francisco — the feuding yin and yang of the Santa Barbara City Council — find themselves singing from the same hymnal. He’s gotten every law enforcement group in the county, as well as the Fund for Santa Barbara — the closest thing we have to a communist conspiracy — on his side. Last week, Brown — a card-carrying Republican — managed to secure an endorsement of Measure S by the Democratic Central Committee despite passionate objections by party boss Daraka Larimore-Hall. The $5-million-a-year Measure S will generate specifically for prevention and intervention programs designed to keep repeat offenders out of jail proved more persuasive than Larimore-Hall’s argument that the tax was regressive and would fall disproportionately on the shoulders of working people. Brown also got endorsements from the Goleta City Council, the Santa Barbara City Council, and all five members of the Board of Supervisors. It would seem a no-brainer. The jail’s been so overcrowded for so long that the ACLU successfully sued to impose a population cap on the number of prisoners it can take.
As impressive as these endorsements are, they’re probably not enough. Measure S requires approval by two-thirds of county voters to pass. That means any two wing nuts having a bad-hair day can knock it off without breaking a sweat. Given that 42 percent of the American people remain unconvinced President Barack Obama is actually a United States citizen, we can conclude the wing nut population is alive and vigorously reproducing. Sucker-punching Brown already, Santa Barbara’s Republican Party — dominated by ideologues, anti-tax purists, and COLAB (the institutional mouthpiece for chronically cranky conservatives) — has come out against Measure S. The Taxpayers’ Association may soon follow. If Brown’s not sleeping easy at night, he has ample cause for insomnia. In fact, the only thing still giving Brown a fighting chance against “the extremists” of his own party are the smoked-out potheads of Isla Vista. Given Brown’s steadfast opposition to pot shops and his kill-joy crackdown on the I.V. party scene, there’s no shortage of irony here. That it’s so, however, remains a fact, and one that didn’t just happen by accident.
Elections are all about numbers, and Isla Vista is endowed with an almost freakish abundance of numbers. The only trick lies in waking up these voters and getting them to the polls. Obama did so. But the gubernatorial showdown between obnoxious billionaire Meg Whitman and political relic Jerry Brown almost certainly will not. The only item on the ballot that might possibly excite younger voters is Proposition 19, which will legalize marijuana once and for all. Statewide, the Democratic Party has kept its distance from Prop. 19, officially taking no position on the measure. It is, by all reckoning, a terribly written law, embodying all the worst attributes of ballot-box legislation. Local governments will be allowed to regulate and tax pot as they see fit, meaning that California would soon become a crazy quilt of differing pot laws. What’s legal in Santa Barbara might get a person locked up in Goleta. But to those less swayed by the technicalities of good government, such objections are totally beside the point. As dumb as Prop. 19 may be, its stupidity pales in comparison to laws outlawing pot in the first place.
When the Santa Barbara Democratic Central Committee met last week at Andersen’s Pea Soup emporium in Buellton, it seemed that party chieftains were inclined to take an official no-position position on Measure S and Prop. 19. On the county jail, Democrats have a hard time endorsing law-and-order measures. On Prop. 19, candidates running for office in North County worried the value of an official party endorsement might be compromised in the eyes of some voters if the same party had endorsed legalizing pot. Polls show that voters are pretty evenly split on Prop. 19, with little middle ground. But others argued that the war on drugs has been an utter failure, not to mention a colossal waste of human life and money. Whatever social problems arose from using pot recreationally, they argued, were dwarfed by the social violence inflicted by treating it as a criminal offense. Prop. 19, they argued, offered a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to say so in a way that counted. Joining the fray on behalf of Prop.19 was political consultant Jeremy Lindaman, who wears enough hats to keep three haberdashers in business. The biggest hat Lindaman is now wearing is that of campaign manager for Sheriff Brown’s Yes on Measure S campaign. Lindaman showed up to the meeting with Santa Barbara Mayor Helene Schneider, who led the charge on behalf of the jail tax. Lindaman himself jumped into the debate over Prop. 19, feet first. Whether Lindaman’s arguments changed the outcome of the Democratic Central Committee endorsements remains open to speculation. But Lindaman certainly thinks he made a difference. He said he entered the fray only when he thought the a no-position position would prevail. Regardless of Lindaman’s role, his arithmetic adds up. To get a two-thirds majority countywide for Measure S, South County voters will have to come out in exceptionally large numbers in favor of the jail tax. This is necessary to offset the narrowness of the victory expected for Measure S in the North. To achieve these numbers, the sleeping giant of Isla Vista has to be roused from its traditional slumber. Once woken by Prop. 19, these voters — overwhelmingly Democratic in party affiliation — could be expected to vote the party line. But first you have to get them to vote. For that to happen, the party absolutely had to endorse the jail tax and Prop. 19.
Time will tell.
If Prop. 19 passes, certainly there will be fewer prisoners in the county jail. Given that victimless crimes account for less than 5 percent of all its inmates, it’s doubtful this alone could obviate the need for a new jail. Conversely, if the jail tax passes, there will some serious money on the table to fund drug treatment. In the meantime, if you hear the roar of the lion and the bleating of the lamb, rest assured Sheriff Bill Brown is close at hand.