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Don’t be fooled by recall effort’s paper roses

By Michael Urban

The idea of a recall election conjures images of civic participation whereby citizens— roused to action by some outrage committed by their elected leaders—step forward to right wrongs by voting the miscreants out of office. That, however, is not what is going on in Santa Cruz today. In place of an informed and active citizenry we have moneyed interests, largely from out of county, hiring impecunious young people to serve as a surrogate “grass roots” to collect signatures on the recall petition. Hired hands working for developers, landlords, realtors and banks masquerading as concerned citizens debase our political process.

The acquisition of money has replaced reasoned debate about our future. The goal of this politics is not to enlighten but to deceive.

The deception begins with the public face of the recall effort: signature gatherers themselves. Despite the fact that state law requires them to disclose their status on request, on six separate occasions myself or acquaintances were told by ten signature gatherers that they were unpaid volunteers. Subsequently, three of them broke down and admitted to being paid 6 dollars per signature while another responded to a third party question—“ What are you doing here?”—by replying “I’m earning a living.” Inasmuch as all of these individuals falsely claimed volunteer status at first, the question arises as to whether this pattern indicates that the assertion had been inserted into their training.

That training may well account for the erroneous and often conflicting answers supplied by the signature gatherers when queried on one or another substantive issue. For instance, one of them told my acquaintance that “Krohn and Glover are against the homeless [and] are trying to get them out of town.” When asked how he had come by this information, he said that signature gatherers had been told this at a training session.

Eventually assenting to the fact that he was, indeed, receiving money for signatures, he then turned to my acquaintance and asked, “Will you pay, then I won’t be out here. I have to eat. I have a daughter to take care of, too.” This “against the homeless” charge was also voiced by other signature gatherers while the opposite— Krohn and Glover are responsible for the homeless “problem”— was insistently uttered by others. The point seemed to be to use the phrasing apparently best suited to this or that potential signatory.

One Santa Cruz resident, long involved with local politics, went to the trouble of reviewing hours of video of City Council meetings in order to ascertain the truth about the first indictment listed on the recall petition: namely, “Councilman Krohn betrayed public trust and violated the Brown Act by requesting closed city council sessions to discuss the relocation of the Ross camp.”

To his surprise, he discovered that the charge was completely false. The video showed that both Krohn and Glover voted against that proposal.

A few days later, he noticed a table set up near the surfer statue on West Cliff Drive and brought up this discrepancy with the person collecting signatures there. That person was not a paid “volunteer” but a leader of the recall effort. Here was a chance to set the record straight! But to no avail. “I tried to point out,” he tells me, “the untruthful reason for the recall but he was well prepared to say what he wanted to say and entirely ignored my assertion that at least one reason for the recall is a lie. He didn’t care.”

It strikes me that the recall effort is accurately represented by this episode. Rather than the actions of Chris Krohn and/or Drew Glover provoking Santa Cruzans to seek their recall, the weapon of recall came first. It has simply been a matter of pinning the most effective rap on them, whether the Mayor’s Rose Report or the sort of double talk and deceit reviewed, here. Paper roses bear resemblance to that which they simulate but should not be confused with the real thing.

Michael Urban is an emeritus professor of politics at UC Santa Cruz.

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