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Rotkin Talks Midterms

news3Outgoing councilmember Michael Rotkin gives the Democratic Women’s Club an election recap
One word sums up the current economic situation, and that is “depression,” comparable to the 1930s, and one of the key mistakes the Democrats made in the recent mid-term elections was trying to water it down as some kind of extended recession on the mend, according to Michael Rotkin.

A longstanding progressive activist, Rotkin has served five stints as the mayor of Santa Cruz over a 26-year career on the Santa Cruz City Council, in addition to working as lecturer and director of field studies in the Communities Studies Department at UC Santa Cruz. At a meeting of the Democratic Women’s Club on Wednesday, Nov. 17, Rotkin gave the audience a fast drive-by of his take on the elections, in which he discussed the federal and state wins and losses, the state propositions, and then honed in on the elected offices he is most familiar with: the Santa Cruz City Council. 

Starting at the top, Rotkin made the familiar criticism that actual unemployment is systematically underreported in official statistics, and is probably double what the government says it is. “The Obama administration did not take seriously enough that we are in a depression … and his administration has not successfully bailed us out of it,” he said.

Nor should this be a surprise, Rotkin said, given that the bailout went through the banks, rather than directly to homeowners, and the money spent on job creation was simply not enough to make a big enough difference in the spiraling unemployment the Obama administration inherited.  So, nationwide, angry voters fed on the “red meat” that the Republican Party, and especially the Tea Partiers, were more than willing to serve them.

Moving on to state elections, Rotkin concluded that the problem the Republicans had with their candidates for governor and senator in this state was simply they were “far too corporate to tap into the excitement of the Tea Party movement,” and it was impossible to sell a candidate for governor as any kind of “populist, anti-government, people’s candidate” when that candidate was spending upward of $140 million of her own money on her campaign. This was in addition to Meg Witman’s “hapless” campaign management that alienated Latino voters, and running a TV commercial extolling the nostalgic virtues of California when she moved here in 1980, back when the state had plenty of jobs and opportunity. All the Jerry Brown campaign had to do was re-run the ad and point out that Jerry Brown was governor in 1980.

Going through the state ballot measures, Rotkin drew belly laughs when he pointed out how interesting it was that more police officers seem to support legalizing marijuana than drug dealers. Citing an old quote from Al Capone on the topic of prohibition (“It works for me”), Rotkin said the uncertainty of state regulation of legal sales seemed to turn off a lot of voters, especially those currently profiting from the illicit market.

Rotkin zeroed in on the city council elections and emphasized that it marks a historic shift in voter’s largest issues of concern that had energized the city’s “progressive majority” for almost 30 years. He said that the priorities have shifted from environmental protection, slow growth and enhanced social services to more traditionally conservative issues; like how to expand the city’s economic base to deal with the fiscal crises facing the city, and issues of public safety.

This shift was shown, according Rotkin, not only with the approval of Measure H, in which Santa Cruz voters approved a hike in utility taxes to pay for increased police services, but also in the lack of support for Ron Pomerantz, a “certified progressive candidate.”  Pomerantz ran on traditional environmental concerns, demonstrated by his support for a “smaller” La Bahia hotel project, and enhanced social programs to improve public safety.  Yet he came in more than 4,000 votes behind the top three vote getters for the three open seats.

Rotkin, who is now “termed out” as a city councilmember after this election, said he is very comfortable with the “moderate, business-friendly progressivism” of the three candidates elected to the city council and had endorsed all three of them. Perhaps playing to the audience a bit, he also said, “You can’t seem to get elected in this town without the endorsement of the Democratic Women’s Club, who endorsed the winners of this race,” a comment that received enthusiastic applause.

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