Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Ignorance and apathy: not just for Arizona any more

...though there *is* hope for Arizona, dim though it may be...

And this is *not* a diatribe on SB1070, though with that title, it certainly could be...

From the Los Angeles Times -

Quick, don't Google, just answer: Who represents you in state government?

This is the question I roamed about asking at a party in my diverse and politically progressive neighborhood of Venice. The room was filled with people who worry openly about the water they drink, the fuel in their cars, the contents of their compost. Some of them had canvassed for Barack Obama or written checks to his campaign. Others were busy trying to overturn Proposition 8, the 2008 ballot initiative that banned gay marriage in California. They were unanimously baffled by what's happening in Arizona, where Gov. Jan Brewer recently signed a bill requiring "suspicious" people to prove their citizenship if stopped by police.

The author, an environmental author and activist, was shocked to find that no one in her group of activists could answer that question.

The author's mistake was surveying people who were only interested in "big" issues, not the nitty-gritty of local races.

As someone who is an activist and has had many discussions with friends and neighbors, I can state unequivocally that most people have no clue about state politics, their legislative representatives (both state and federal), and candidates for the job. Most can name the president and maybe the governor, but the farther down the political org chart the elected official is, the less likely that the typical resident is going to know who the elected official is, or what he or she does.

Nor is that phenomenon limited to the progressive community mentioned in the LA Times piece.

Two years ago, while attending a community meeting, I struck up a conversation with a local couple, a pair of long-time elected precinct committeepersons for the Republican Party, people who had done much the same thing (walking, talking, calling friends and neighbors) as I have (only for the wrong party :) ).

In short, they were the epitome of the "local activist".

Yet even they couldn't name the six ballot-qualified candidates for the R nomination in the CD5 race.

*I* could (Schweikert, Bitter Smith, Ogsbury, Anderson, Gentry, and Knaperek, and I still can recite that list from memory), but I'm a blogger - I write about this stuff.

Of course, even I'm not perfect in this regard. Until Ed Hermes, a friend of mine, ran for Maricopa County Supervisor in 2008, I couldn't name my representative on the Board of Supes (Fulton Brock. Hiss, Boo. :) ).

The supes rarely address issues that I care about, so I didn't pay attention to them.

Historically, this tendency toward not knowing or caring about elected officials or candidates has favored Republicans in Arizona. With a decided advantage in voter registration totals, and a tendency for self-identified Republicans to blindly vote for any candidate listed as a Republican, ignorance and apathy has led to the election of some supremely unqualified candidates.

This year, that may change (at least, I hope it does).

People are angry over the incredibly poor job that the current crop of state-level elected officials have done at managing the state. The SB1070/immigration issue may have distracted a lot of folks for the time being, but the fundamental dissatisfaction with the performance of Arizona's legislature and statewide officials remains both deep and profound.

On top of that, the number of independent voters in Arizona has risen compared to the percentage of voters who identify a party preference (less than 25% in 2004 compared to more than 30% as of last month). These are folks who, for the most part, don't care about a candidate's partisan affiliation.

The utter incompetence and complete unprofessionalism of the legislature and Jan Brewer has broken through the normal apathy - people care about the job their elected officials are doing.

Now the task is to break through the normal ignorance, to let people know who their elected officials are and the part that each of them played in steering Arizona's ship of state into the rocky shoals of fiscal insolvency and societal ridicule.


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