Claremont Insider: Strange Bedfellows

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Strange Bedfellows

The Goddess of Pomona has a brief breakdown of the 61st State Assembly District race, complete with an image of Pomona Mayor Norma Torres posed like a counterweight on a bit of heavy construction machinery.

The 61st is safely Democratic, so the winner will be decided in the June primary election. There are four candidates vying for the chance to be the Democrat in the November election: Torres; attorney, teacher and Claremont Graduate University alum Ken White; Ontario community activist Paul Vincent Avila; and Chino business man Maurice Ayala.

Claremont, by the way, is in the 59th Assembly District and is represented by Anthony Adams (R-Hesperia). The 59th District has been a fairly safe Republican district, just as the 61st has been reliably Democratic, though in Claremont, the traditional party labels don't always apply.

On the Goddess of Pomona's post, there are are a number of comments, including one from Calwatch, who says that Torres will win the primary because the other primary candidates will split the non-Torres vote. We've seen this phenomena in Claremont municipal elections, often with the Claremont 400 intentionally supporting losing candidates simply to help split up the opposition vote (think Mike Maglio 2007). Divide and conquer really sums up this campaign strategy - Norma's taking one right out of the Claremonsters' play book.

Calwatch also gives his take on how Torres was elected mayor of Pomona:

Torres received 1,651 votes, out of a city of 170,000. Even granting that half the population is too young and half of the rest are not citizens, that is horrible (44,000 registered voters in Pomona). Torres is literally representing 1% of Pomona's population.

Another Claremont phenomena - non-representative government!

This non-representativeness might actually be more widespread than we thought. It might also explain an article we saw recently in the Daily Bulletin reporting on a UC Riverside study that found inequities in the way Inland Empire local governments fail to adequately speak for large segments of citizenry. The UCR study focused on race, and that may indeed still be a factor in Claremont, but we Insiders believe the root problem really seems to lie with the elites, here and elsewhere, that control the avenues to office.

Those elites, whether they have their base in party affiliations as in Norma Torres' case, or in social and service organizations as in Claremont (the League of Women Voters or the Claremont Community Foundation, to name two), tend to be disconnected from the problems and opinions of many voters.

Because they only include people of like minds, their ideas are never really tested, and they develop an arrogant, insular close-mindedness. Intellectual inbreeding, just like the genetic sort, has dire consequences for a population. The pool of available ideas becomes narrower and narrower, and the decisions become ever more disconnected from reality.

A possible solution the UCR study proposes is outreach to outside groups:
One key to bridging the gap between political power and some emerging advocacy groups is simple contact. Referring to one of the report's overall assessment - that the region in many ways still embodies the small-town mentality of power couched in a few small circles - the authors call on public officials to enlarge their base and contacts with what are now essentially fringe groups.

Claremonsters, if they were really concerned about outreach and inclusiveness, might try sitting down with some of these "emerging advocacy groups" and incorporate them into the community dialogue. Instead, as Mayor Ellen Taylor and Councimember Sam Pedroza did earlier this month, they handpick a group of the usual suspects, throwing in a token opposition person, to study the problem of affordable housing in Claremont - a problem created in part because most of these same people refused to listen to the community in the first place, insisting without reason that they knew better.

Here, as is apparently the case in the rest of the Inland Empire, the people running the show practice exclusion on a regular basis and consider it a virtue. Just ask Claremont historian and former mayor Judy Wright, who has devoted a couple books to mythologizing Claremont's town fathers and mothers.

But none of this is new. It's just not a race-based exclusionary policy; rather, it's a closing of the mind by keeping out people who think differently: "We made this town. We know better than you."

The process, though, is the same sort of small-minded intolerance whether here, or in Colton, or in rural West Virginia (almost the hickiest place, according to one Claremonster). It's a bit like the difference between the inbreeding that might have gone on in an isolated rural community compared to that of the Hapsburgs, Bourbons, and Wittelsbachs of Europe. There may be class differences, but it's all the same process and has the same consequences. The Claremont 400 may consider themselves a sort of local aristocracy with a divine right to rule, but that doesn't hide the webbed feet and pig tails.