As we enter the last few weeks of this election cycle’s campaign season we will receive more political campaign mailers stuffed in our mailboxes, email inboxes, and hanging on the doorknobs of our front doors touting the merits of one candidate over another. Local and statewide measures will be debated in our newspapers and through social media. The landscape of our cities will also be peppered with even more campaign signs…mini-billboards advertising the candidate’s virtues: vote for (fill in the blank) honesty, integrity, leadership, and accountability…
All proposing to fight for you.
We will also see the usual proliferation of dirty politics… mudslinging, name-calling, and misleading negative advertising from the sometimes creative but usually extremely destructive minds of paid political operatives and campaign consultants. Unfortunately, negative campaigning has always been a part of our democratic process since George Washington’s presidential win in 1789, according to historian Joseph Cummins whose book Anything for a Vote: Dirty Tricks, Cheap Shots, and October Surprises chronicles the campaign smears and attacks that have typified U.S. elections. Strategies and tactics have evolved, Cummins remarks, campaigns have gotten better, but in other cases it’s worse.
Take for instance, a mailer created by the San Bernardino City Professional Firefighters Local 891 Political Action Committee opposing Measure Q, which seeks to rewrite Section 186 of the San Bernardino City Charter. According to quotes by “concerned” citizens featured on the back of the mailer, “Measure Q puts taxpayers at risk…” and “reduces our emergency services.” The language implies that if Measure Q passes safety services will be “impaired” or reduced when citizens need them.
The mailer also mis-educates voters, “The people of San Bernardino voted Section 186 into our Charter to protect us against excessive salaries.” First there is the use of the first person pronouns our and us, identifying the “Citizens Public Safety Committee” as voters and residents of the city, when in fact the “committee” was created by the firefighters’ PAC, and only 4 of the professional firefighters of the city of San Bernardino reside in the city, so there is no our or us. And second, this section of the charter does the opposite when it comes to public safety salaries. According to economics professor and San Bernardino resident Dr. Tom Pierce, “The (Section) 186 formula stipulates that salaries for specific public safety jobs in San Bernardino must be exactly the same as the average salary paid for those same jobs in 10 California cities of comparable population,” not comparable economies, tax bases or household income levels.
In San Bernardino, according to a Sacramento Bee matrix on California’s public safety salaries, San Bernardino firefighters earned on average $160,433 in 2012 and had the 9th highest average pay of 325 agencies. While I respect the work firefighters do for us, I question the exorbitant salaries of the average department employee. They make more than San Bernardino police officers who averaged $92,638 that year. And more than the current mayor whose salary is $124,991. City leaders must be able to negotiate salaries of ALL city employees based on the city’s current budget and tax revenue.
As Dr. Pierce reminds us, “Section 186 requires that we pay our public safety employees on the basis of what other, more prosperous cities” pay their employees. “No other city in California determines police and fire salaries that way.”
The misleading mailer does more than try to influence a voter to vote against a (one-time) measure, supporting these slanted versions of the truth will only contribute to the downward spiral of a city in need of a massive overhaul.
We deserve honest campaigning.
We deserve truth in advertising.
We deserve transparency and full disclosure.
We deserve to control the destiny of our city.
Next week: Part II Reforming Moreno Valley