Thursday, November 06, 2008

Local election results: half full or half empty?

Heather Knight's story in this morning's Chronicle succinctly presents the puzzle of SF voters in Tuesday's election: How could ultra-liberal San Francisco vote against affordable housing, the legalization of prostitution, public power, and for JROTC in the schools? For two reasons: city voters are not as left-wing as progs like to think, and the collapse of the country's financial system has scared even many progs, who, like the rest of us, were reluctant to okay big spending measures.

Even Chris Daly is more or less reality-based about the results:

"You didn't see a litmus test around liberal or conservative...You saw the electorate rejecting new items with associated spending based on economic conditions and the meltdown of the global financial systems."

That may explain the vote against affordable housing, but the economy doesn't explain the vote against legalizing prostitution, the vote for JROTC, or the vote against naming a sewage plant after President Bush. Besides, city voters weren't mindlessly rejecting all spending measures, since the expensive rehab of SF General, which needed a two-thirds vote, got more than 80%.

On the other hand, Knight cites the apparent election of the "left-leaning" Eric Mar, David Chiu, and John Avalos to the Board of Supervisors as a victory for city progressives. But when you look at the numbers in the sidebar to the article, you learn that none of those progressives got a majority of votes; only Mar got more than 40%, hardly a mandate for political progressivism in SF.

While Knight's story tries to explain why allegedly progressive SF voters voted conservatively on the issues, some city progs are exchanging high fives and celebrating victory, insisting that Mayor Newsom and "business interests" were big losers because some of his candidates for the BOS were losing and his community court measure lost.

Not surprisingly, Newsom has a different take:

The mayor said it was too soon to call the supervisor races, but he pointed out that two candidates he appointed to the board---Carmen Chu, who is holding on to a slim majority, and Sean Elsbernd, who had no serious challengers---won their seats, a victory that he said was especially important. Newsom also noted that several ballot measures that he opposed---regarding affordable housing, public power, legalizing prostitution, and the JROTC program---failed with voters, and the hospital bond measure that he supported passed by a wide margin. "I think we did very well, in fact extraordinarily well," Newsom said. "The people who want to say last night was a defeat for the mayor, I don't think they're looking at the same results we are," said Eric Jaye, Newsom's chief political strategist.

Contrary to what some city progressives seem to think, elections are not morality tales where the Good struggles with the Wicked. Voters vote their interests as they understand them. And, whether you like it or not, they also vote their values, which is why legalizing prostitution was correctly seen as a bad idea, and naming a sewage plant after President Bush was seen as a juvenile stunt that didn't belong on the ballot.