Mayor Reed should come out of the closet. No, not that closet. I’m talking about the closet inhabited by local politicos who call themselves Democrats, because it suits their electoral ambitions despite plainly conservative fiscal—and social—values. This is a subject we visited last month, and in the time since, it’s taken on an added dimension.
Last week, the City of San Jose Rules and Open Government Committee rejected a proposal from councilmembers Sam Liccardo, Xavier Campos, and Don Rocha for the Council to adopt a resolution opposing the notorious Supreme Court decision in the 2010 Citizens United case. That decision basically holds that money equals free speech and corporations are the same as individuals like you and me—at least when it comes to elections.
President Obama admonished the Court over its ruling in his State of the Union Address that year. His 2008 presidential election opponent, John McCain, as well as every other crusader for campaign finance reform, joined in that criticism. Resolutions opposing the decision are commonplace among Democratic and progressive organizations, including both the California and Santa Clara County Democratic Party. There is even a national grassroots movement to overturn the decision with a Constitutional Amendment.
On paper, San Jose is arguably one of the most Democratic big cities in the nation. And on paper, the resolution rejected by the Rules Committee last week would seem to fall in line with the politics of our residents. So why did it fail to move out of committee? According to Mayor Reed, the proposal was “pretty far out there.” That’s a pretty far out there statement from a man who calls himself a Democrat on the dotted line. And it doesn’t stop there.
The Mayor recently issued a referral to the City’s Elections Commission, asking it to look into the elimination of contribution limits in City Council races. His argument is fairly straightforward: because independent expenditure committees already dominate the electoral landscape, we shouldn’t hamstring candidates by regulating the amount of money they can spend on their own campaigns. Of course, the democratic (small “d”) response would be to overturn Citizens United and reduce the amount of money flooding into independent committees, and not to undermine successful campaign finance reforms that have been in place for years. Can the Mayor use his Reed Reforms to justify this move?
It’s enough to make you wonder if the de-facto figurehead of San Jose’s government has his finger on the pulse of his residents. From his opposition to gay marriage and the Measure D minimum wage hike to his “gravy train” rebuke of our police officers and attempts to undercut the voice of city boards and commissions in the name of fiscal responsibility, Mayor Reed looks, sounds, and votes no different from conservative Republican Councilmembers Pete Constant and Johnny Khamis. And as the saying goes, if it looks like a Republican, sounds like a Republican, and votes like a Republican, you call it what it is.
To his credit, Mayor Reed doesn’t make himself out to be a die-hard, bleeding heart, Democratic activist. But if actions speak louder than words, he’s screaming his political allegiances from the proverbial mountaintop. He avoids Party functions like the annual Jefferson Jackson Dinner and doesn’t give money to Democratic candidates or causes. He even goes so far as to endorse hardline Republicans running against fellow Democrats (see Pegram, Larry; Khamis, Johnny), provided they’ll be solid votes for securing his legacy.
This is not to let Mr. Reed’s partners in subterfuge off the hook. Councilmember Pierluigi Oliverio, a fellow Democrat and Rules Committee member, also voted against the Citizens United resolution. That was surprising, because Mr. Oliverio is a two-term member of the Santa Clara County Democratic Central Committee. Perhaps he, more than any other local “Democrat,” truly understands one of the underlying political principles of our region: Nobody’s paying attention, so what does it matter anyway?
Well, there will be more than a few people paying attention on Tuesday, when the Council considers joining an amicus brief in the U.S. Supreme Court case against Proposition 8, the ban on same-sex marriage in California. I’m getting my popcorn ready.
Peter Allen is an independent communications consultant and a proud native of San Jose.