June 2, 2006

My Brother is a Candidate

By E.A. Barrera

“… governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, that whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government …”
Declaration of Independence, 1776

This year, my brother Richard Barrera is a candidate for Supervisor. The first in my family to do so, he is challenging long time incumbent Republican Ron Roberts for his seat on the County Board of Supervisors in District 4. That my brother would run for office - much less attempt to unseat a Republican icon of old San Diego - created an opportunity for me to briefly re-enter a partisan political world I had abandoned a decade earlier for a career in journalism.

I began volunteering for political campaigns when I was in high school. My first paid job in politics was in 1987, when a young professor named Bob Filner ran against a young attorney named Mike Aguirre for the City Council in District 8 (which at the time took in much of metro San Diego and more closely resembled the current District 3).

Filner paid me to put up campaign signs and do advance work. City Council elections were citywide back then, meaning every voter got the chance to vote for every council district candidate, regardless of where they lived. Consequently all the candidates campaigned and participated in candidate forums throughout the city. It was a bad system that forced campaigns to spend more money than they should for votes of people they wouldn’t directly represent. But it familiarized me with the layout of this city and introduced me to a budding architect running for 2nd District City Council named Ron Roberts.


Richard Barrera’s campaign for Supervisor receives the support of (left to right) David Valladolid, Mary Salas, Richard, and Congressman Bob Filner.

When Richard decided to run last November, speculation was that Toni Atkins would seek the job. She had not made a decision at that point, but it was agreed that if Toni entered the race, we would exit. She has been a strong, competent councilwoman and had earned the support of Democrats throughout the district - including us.

But Atkins decided not to run and swiftly endorsed Richard to replace Roberts. Still, this left us facing an opponent in Roberts who had run for Mayor twice in five years, and was far wealthier and better connected to the monied interests of this county than we were. Even though he had sought to leave his current job on three separate occasions (seeking a position with the Center City Development Corporation as recently as last year), we knew Roberts would fight like an old bantam rooster defending his coop to keep hold of his position as a Supervisor.

The entire Board has served as one unit since 1995 without change. Though the position is technically non-partisan, the current Board of Supervisors has voted in the predictable manner five, white, wealthy Republicans would be expected to vote. Namely, they have never seen a development project they didn’t love; a social program they did not despise; and a poor or weakened person they did not think was some sort of slacker who wasn’t willing to work for a living.

They have been rewarded for this predictability with millions of dollars in campaign contributions from the development and real estate industry over the last decade. Roberts, has never broken ranks with right-wing zealot Bill Horn on issues of land use. This became blatant during the so-called General Plan 2020 process, when Roberts repeatedly voted with Horn to approve sprawl development, despite the massive impact such development would have on straining services to city residents - increasing our daily traffic to such a degree that San Diego now looks very similar to Los Angeles when you travel our roads.

GP-2020 would have provided legal guidance and a plan for development in San Diego. But it was never approved due to developer tactics that favored a piece-meal, project-by-project approach to development - where every project could be campaigned for and developer money could be conveniently dropped into the campaign coffers of the five Supervisors.

City Attorney Mike Aguirre found this out when he sued the Board of Supervisors over political redistricting in 2002. Aguirre uncovered a collusion campaign on the part of the Board of Supervisors and developers in the so-called “Stonegate” memos to derail GP-2020. Roberts voted with Horn in every circumstance regarding GP-2020.

“Through the efforts of SOLV (Save Our Land Values) and actions behind the scenes at the Board of Supervisors level … we have opened a formal process to request that the land use designation for proposed Plan 2020 be changed,” said Stonegate Development Company president David Youde in a November 14, 2000 memoranda. “Supervisor Horn’s aides have asked us to provide political cover for the Supervisors if we are to bring this project forward and expect their support.”

As a candidate, Richard soon discovered a deep cynicism against our County government and a desire on the part of voters to end the sort of cronyism and politics of money so disgustingly evident in the bribery scandal of Randy Cunningham. He received the endorsement of the Democratic Party, as well as Filner, Atkins, Donna Frye, Christine Kehoe, Lorena Gonzales and Francine Busby. He was swiftly endorsed by the Sierra Club and the League of Conservation Voters. Most significantly (for it’s statement of courage), Richard earned the endorsement of the San Diego Labor Council and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).

SEIU‘s endorsement said droves about the lousy conditions working people had with this Board and their desire for change after 11 years. SEIU represents County employees and other hard working people who must regularly deal with the Board. They must re-negotiate their contracts with the Board and thus, for them to go out on such a limb and support a Democrat like Richard over such an entrenched GOP stalwart as Roberts, meant they were desperate to bring another voice onto this Board. A voice that would be willing to listen to the concerns of working people and not instantly assume anyone who had not made a fortune was a bum.

As of this writing, the campaign is less than a week away. Voters are being asked to choose between change and the status quo. The effort reminds me of the words of another architect. Politics in America is how we live-up to Thomas Jefferson’s notion that a little revolution every once in a while is good for a democracy. Every two years the voters participate in a little well-managed, hopefully peaceful insurrection - letting those who hold power know that their political jobs are supposed to be temporary … and it is the voters, not the politicians, who decide who will serve. They have the chance to do this again on June 6.

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