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Stateside With Rosalea - Is everybody happy?

Stateside With Rosalea - Is everybody happy?

The Republicans really are too comic. (Should there be an 'al' in there somewhere?) The sight of the Prez and his Vice lickety-splitting it up and down the country trying to get out the Republican vote is as much fun as watching a couple of chickens dancing on a hotplate. Anyone would think they're desperate to become numerically unimpeachable. And all those plane landings. It's a worry.

"We've become a 50-50 nation," opine the pundits who have taken upon themselves the weighty responsibility of putting words in vox poppers' mouths. "We go through these periods of happiness," said a commentator on ABC's Sunday morning political show 'This Week', "Let's just live with it." "We live in an age of parity," was the way another political analyst put it on CBS's Sunday morning magazine-style show. They are all talking about the closeness of the polls in many critical races and the same-same message of the Republocrats or Democricans who are contesting them - a same-same situation that 'Mad TV' parodied perfectly on Saturday night.

According to one recent nationwide poll, 50 percent of voters see this election as a referendum on the President's popularity - and at 67 percent support, he has the highest approval rating of any post-war president. "He has created a great environment for our candidates to run in," said Karen Hughes, one of his communications advisors. Naturally, among the first words out of her mouth in her 'This Week' interview were "September" and "eleventh". The key things she said the President needs help with - which the Senate is currently not being helpful on - are homeland security, terrorism insurance, and making US energy needs independent of foreign oil.

"Indepedence. It's why America is." No, not a pundit or a politician, but an ad for Williams Energy which aired during 'This Week'. Couldn't agree with that sentiment more, mate, which is why I find it so scary that this wistful homogenity - homogenuity? - has suddenly emerged as a thread of discourse in the mainstream media. Why aren't they investigating the price this centripetal force is exacting from candidates - both Republican and Democrat - within their own party structures?

Meanwhile, the Bush camp must be laughing all the way to the polling booth over the bind they put the Democrats in on the subject of an invasion of Iraq. "Our highest responsibility is to keep our people safe," was the response of the Dem's leader in the House, Dick Gephardt, when he was asked on 'This Week' about the people in his party who'd sided with Bush, making it hard for some Democratic candidates to have anything to delineate their party's stance.

But there is so much more on the ballot than the US House and Senate seats. There's the State offices, such as Governor - a race that in California has 1 in 4 voters still undecided as they are supposedly forced to choose between "the lesser of two evils." Maybe there's only one evil - Damon - made up of Davis (D) and Simon (R), who spend copious amounts of money on ads slagging each other off, the mildest of which ends with the whimper: "Under Gray Davis, traffic is hopeless".

In the process, they have so turned voters off that there are nine - count 'em! - NINE write-in candidates for Governor of California. Here's a prediction: the race will be so close that it will be decided by the outcome of votes in one or two counties. Those counties will be the ones with touch-screen voting or some other form of voting that wasn't designed to cope with such a plethora of balls coming out of left field. Actually, for all I know there might be dozens of write-in candidates every year and nine is an unusually low number, but my prediction is that Bill Simon will be the next Governor of California.

I wish that result would be the outcome of a lot of people voting for third party and write-in candidates just because they actually agree with what one of those candidates is saying. But it's more likely going to be because in a low turn-out election, Republicans usually do better, and that is what's predicted for Tuesday. Both parties are spending millions on TV ads to get out the vote - the Democrats have been underscoring the difference just a few votes made in Florida, but they started airing the commercials too early and too frequently, so that strategy is likely to backfire by taking on an air of hysteria and turning voters off by the time Tuesday rolls around.

Further down the ballot is another write-in candidate for State office: Mark Sanchez for State Superindendent of Public Instruction. He is currently a commissioner on the San Francisco Board of Education. He - like gubernatorial write-in Anselmo Chavez - has set his sights on reforming an old State proposition to do with the assessment of commerical and industrial property taxes, and redirecting the subsequent huge amounts of revenue gained into education. (Chavez wants to see it spent on programs for the elderly and poor as well.)

Sanchez's platform includes "opposing the Boy Scouts of America being on school campuses" so don't hold your breath waiting for him to be elected, but education is an issue in itself that should get out the vote in California, because this state performs so badly in that area. Besides the State Superintendent office, and the two State propositions on the ballot - allocating funds to buildings and to after-school programmes - many local jurisdictions have measures that affect the quality of education in their districts.

And, of course, there are the elections for local school boards. A couple of weeks ago I went to a well-attended candidates' meeting for one such board, in the neighbouring city of Albany (pop. 7,000, swelling to 20,000 during the working day.) Parents' concerns here are the same as those the world over: Is the money being spent wisely? Are our children achieving? Do we have good teachers and facilities? How do our students compare to those at other schools in the testing regime? Is standardised testing actually useful, or is valuable time being taken away from the curriculum in order just to prepare students for the tests?

One candidate said that you could get the same results if you compare incomes instead of test scores. Another said that schools are the heart of the community and when they're struggling, the community is too. And therein lies the real reason people should get out and vote. They don't have to vote for any candidates in any race at all if they don't want to, but they do have a wonderful opportunity here to participate in democracy in a very direct way by influencing the way money is spent in their communities - just by voting for and against ballot measures.

A wise educator, whose name I've long forgotten, once said that the only difference between civilization and barbarity is twelve years - the time it takes to turn a baby human animal into a caring, responsible, participative human being. Vote - it's one of the hallmarks of a civilized person in a democratic society.

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