America has 19,000 cities, towns, and villages with a variety of government structures, but regardless of how they are structured, all elect officials to carry out essential government functions. Whether we are electing school board members, a district attorney, selecting city councilmembers, county board supervisors or a new sheriff, those we elect should reflect the values of the local electorate. In 2022, we will have another opportunity to decide what we value as a community.
We hear again and again that all politics are local and in communities like those here in the inland region where elected officials are purportedly “nonpartisan” it would also be disingenuous to think candidates do not have allegiance to one party or another.
Why does this matter? Ideally, it should not. The differences in political ideology should make us stronger communities, stronger states, a stronger nation because in a rational and functioning democracy the extent to which you value your opponent’s differences in ideology should enable both sides to work collectively toward the best solutions for the benefit of all. However, that is not the world we live in today.
In many regards, extremism has seeped into politics at all levels of government and to vote with blinders on in this regard, will not serve the best interest of this or any community.
Currently, Vote-by-Mail ballots for the June 7 Primary are being delivered to mailboxes around the state and each voter is once again being asked to weigh in on who will lead our communities, our state, and our nation’s Congress.
One way to determine whether someone is operating politically in a fair and unbiased way is to not only look at their works but also their campaign websites. Who is endorsing them? Who is funding them? What is their platform? What are they touting as accomplishments? What are they promising to deliver?
Certainly, we have big issues to consider whether we are electing a mayor for the City of San Bernardino for example, or any other inland city for that matter, electing members to supervisory boards in Riverside or San Bernardino County, city council members, sheriffs, a district attorney, school board members, water boards representatives, etc. Every position matters.
San Bernardino City Unified School District
A perfect example of this, of how every elected position matters, is exactly what we witnessed recently regarding the San Bernardino City Unified School District Board of Education when the board initially sought to summarily dismiss (one board member last minute), and then ultimately forced-out the district’s first Black Superintendent of Schools, Harry “Doc” Ervin.
This board purposely failed to fill a seat vacated by the loss of highly acclaimed school board member Dr. Margaret Hill last December. As a result, the remaining board members– who had already soured on the superintendent for political reasons even before Hill’s passing and advocated unsuccessfully for his removal when he had only been on the job three months– were able to successfully block any attempt he made to move forward with constructive changes for the district, successfully thwarting his ability to do the job he was hired to do.
Do these school board members, Barbara Flores, Danny Tillman, and Abigail Medina. who placed their own political fortunes ahead of the students they were elected to serve, deserve your vote after wasting taxpayer dollars, besmirching the reputation of a highly acclaimed educator and blocking attempts to enhance the educational progress of the San Bernardino City Unified School District?
San Bernardino Mayor
The hubris of these board members and their quest for reelection is certainly matched by others seeking reelection. Hopefully, this won’t be the only one area Inland Empire voters will make better choices this year.
Consider San Bernardino Mayor John Valdivia, who has been accused of misusing city resources and funds as well as allegedly sexually harrassing at least three city employees and yet, he has once again put himself before the voters.
When it comes to hubris and questionable behaviors, Valdivia appears to have it in abundance. It is time for voters to send him a message—your time as mayor is coming to an end, Valdivia however is not alone in his lack of self- awareness.
Riverside District Attorney
We also have an opportunity to oust Riverside District Attorney Mike Hestrin. Not only is Hestrin puffed-up by his reputation for often leading the nation in death penalty cases, the ACLU reported earlier this year how the Riverside County District Attorney has imprisoned youth at a rate 2.5 times the state average on his watch.
The report also showed a wide race disparity in the numbers of young people tried as adults—Latino youth were prosecuted in adult courts at 8.6 times their white counterparts, and Black youth were prosecuted in adult courts 4.3 times more than whites.
In addition the analysis reported a review of about 456,000 records from 2017 to 2020 showed nearly 57% of the cases should have been “decline-to-charge or diverted.”
As importantly, particularly as we reflect on the meaning and intent of the 2020 uprisings, when you consider Riverside County is only 7.3% of the overall population is Black, 13.9% of adults charged by DA Hestrin between 2017-2020 were Black–almost double the county’s Black population. Another strong indication it is time for him to go. It is obvious to Hestrin, tough on crime means tough on Blacks. Hestrin also showed his true colors when he challenged the validity of the 2020 election results… an indication of “big lie” sentiments.
Riverside County Sheriff
When you consider the mindset of Hestrin in partnership with Riverside County Sheriff Chad Bianco, a red warning flag is waving over Riverside County.
Hestrin and Bianco are leveraging the current uptick in crime to “scare” voters into keeping them in office. Hopefully, voters will not buy into this as a reason to keep these individuals in office. We have seen this fearmongering before—it was this same kind of “tough on crime” mantra that led to the over incarceration of Blacks and other minorities.
The tough on crime approach continues to be disastrous for minorities and the poor, destroying families and minority communities in the process. Yet, too many voters are still willing to put more money into law enforcement than social programs to mitigate the issue—don’t be hoodwinked in 2022. As they say, “If we always do what we’ve always done we will always get what we always got.”
Like San Bernardino Mayor Valdivia, Bianco also appears to lack self-awareness. He violates federal, state and local laws parading around in his uniform at political events. He has remained unapologetic regarding his Oath Keepers membership despite the organization’s ties to the January 9 insurrection and the Charlottesville hateful display of white nationalism. This, in addition to his aggressive response to COVID-19 mandates, which included his minimizing the threats of the virus, and his anti-vax and anti-mask philosophy even as COVID-19 was the leading cause of death among law enforcement nationally in 2021.
In other words, Bianco not only demonstrated a lack of concern for the lives of those in the community he was sworn to protect and serve, but he also obviously and willingly played Russian Roulette with the lives of deputies under his leadership.
San Bernardino County Sheriff
The other inland area law enforcement leader seeking election, San Bernardino County Sheriff Shannon Dicus is campaigning to overcome the reality of being the third consecutive sheriff in the county since 2009 to be hand selected by sheriff department hierarchy and county supervisors.
Dicus, like his two immediate predecessors, hopes to benefit from the political advantages of incumbency including free media coverage and access to generous campaign financing—especially the lucrative donations of the Sheriff Employees Benefit Association and other police unions—the same fiscal support enjoyed by Riverside’s Bianco.
Despite an amendment approved by San Bernardino County voters in November 2020 that empowered county supervisors with the ‘option’ of calling for a special election to fill countywide positions normally elected, like the role of county sheriff for example. However, as is so often the case, the amendment included a weasel clause which included the word ‘option’ versus ‘require’ that made it easy for board supervisors to manipulate. Thus, those in power in the county were able to continue having their say and their way regarding who they “believe” should be sheriff in this county without giving voters an opportunity to weigh in.
Passing the baton of leadership from sheriff to sheriff in San Bernardino County as if it were a legalized “rite of passage” has resulted in a long history of questionable practices and at times, led to tortuous and/or deadly results. There is currently a petition circulating on change.org not only calling for change within in the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department, but also providing a credible lists of examples regarding why the organization needs new leadership. Take time to review the department’s history and decide for yourself.
Those who believe the timing of former San Bernardino County Sheriff John McMahon’s retirement and the appointment of Dicus to replace him was incidental to the way this has played out, should think again. In the world of politics, there are no accidents.
The special election option voters thought they approved in November 2020 dictates such special elections must occur at least 130 days from the time the special election is called, which can happen 60 days after the outgoing official—in this case former Sheriff McMahon—officially leaves office. McMahon officially retired July 15, 2020, and the 60-day clock ended squarely on September 14, 2020—the exact date of the failed recall election of CA Governor Gavin Newsom. A coincidence? Probably not.
Dicus is very open about his Republican alignment but claims not to see red or blue in how he operates as sheriff. This is all well and good, however one of the first official changes under his leadership was to shutdown transparency in relation to press releases initiated by the coroner’s office related to “unnatural deaths” which include shootings—police or otherwise. In the meantime, the body worn cameras promised by Dicus last August are yet to materialize while in-custody deaths in the county continue to rise.
Your vote matters
These are just a few important examples of why your vote in local elections matter.
Both counties in the inland region are now majority people of color and it is time voters elect leaders–regardless of color or party affiliation– committed to creating a region focused on equity and fairness regarding how we educate our children, lead our cities and counties, and/or address policing and administer criminal justice and in every other aspect of our lives. In other words, equity is on the ballot this year.
Don’t sit this election out. Vote for a better future for the Inland Empire and not the perpetuation of a past system and leaders willing to perpetuate a status quo that worked well for a select few and relegated issues of equity and fairness to meaningless lip service that ignored the needs of the area’s new majority.
Of course, this is just my opinion. I’m keeping it real.