Too few people understand that citizenship is not just about rights; it is also about responsibilities. That’s why I think everyone should vote at a minimum, although I do think as a country we make it harder than it ought to be—especially for the working poor. But if a democracy is not constantly tended to, it turns inexorably into an oligarchy which I believe I have been seeing my whole life. When it comes to one thing that everyone cares about—the economy—there really isn’t much choice among the parties. “Liberalism” has come to mean “social liberalism” and “conservatism” has come to mean “social conservatism” because both parties now agree on what I call “economic conservatism.” And the worst kind of economic conservatism. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you really should read Dean Baker’s excellent The End of Loser Liberalism: Making Markets Progressive, which is available in electronic form for free from the Center for Economic and Policy Research.)
Well, as I was making my final preparations for tomorrow’s vote, I decided to dive into the propositions. They aren’t terribly exciting. There’s a bond measure for veterans’ housing and a curious little measure—Proposition 42—about who ought to pay for the cost of providing access to meetings and documents as dictated by the 1968 California Public Records Act and later laws. It seems that local governments are circumventing these rights by pleading poverty. Proposition 42 says that local governments have to provide access, eat the cost, and shut up. The issue is clear as far as this is concerned: the rights must be paid for, so we do need to sort this out. I’m fine with requiring the local governments to do so, but I would also be fine with the state government paying (although I can see that providing some bad incentives). Regardless, local funding is on the ballot and so I’m for that.
But while going over it all, I noticed that there was only one person arguing against both these measures: Gary Wesley. I don’t know how I managed to not know about Wesley until this time, but it has only been recently that I’ve been following politics while in California. Still, it is a major oversight because Wesley is a legend. Back in 1986, The Los Angeles Times wrote, Self-Appointed Rebuttal Writer: He Can’t Resist Saying ‘No’ to Ballot Measures. At that time, they described him as a “33-year-old San Jose attorney.” If I had to guess, I’d bet he is now a 61-year-old San Jose attorney. (I’m more sure of the age and occupation than the location.) And he’s been doing this since 1978—36 years!
Don’t get the wrong idea about Wesley, though. He isn’t some crank like, “Old man yells at cloud!” He seems to do this as a public service—as a civic duty. You see, if a proposition gets on the ballot, it must have supporters. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be on the ballot; it isn’t magic. But often, a proposition just isn’t controversial. Take for example, Proposition 41: there aren’t a lot of people who are interesting in blocking funding to help homeless veterans. So Gary Wesley steps in and provides a counter argument. The Times articled quoted him as saying, “I don’t feel that strongly about it. I would submit an opposing argument to almost anything.”
I don’t know anything about Gary Wesley other than that he does this one thing. But he is a hero. I almost want to vote against these propositions just to show how strongly I feel. But I’m certain that would go exactly counter to what he is doing. This is about democracy and citizenship. We need a whole lot more Gary Wesleys in this country.