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On rare occasions, the stars and planets align themselves just so, and a perfect example of what is wrong with our national politics emerges onto the local political scene. The race for the 16th District seat in the state Senate, vacated by Michael Rubio, is a perfect case study of what is wrong with Sacramento and, by extension, Washington.
Rubio's behavior, specifically his inability to wait for his term to finish before taking a non-lobbying job for Chevron, says so much about how institutionalized the influence of money has become. It really is just part of the process. What many may find troubling about Rubio's actions in this whole pay-to-play business is the possibility that much of the oil industry legislation that he helped turn into codified law was influenced by his desire to be employable to Chevron. Was Rubio parlaying his position as a state senator all along? Or did his relationship with Chevron, like love, just sort of happen? Only Rubio knows for sure.
This seat is one of several the Democrats need to maintain their supermajority in the state Senate. Reports are that the two front-runners, Democrat Leticia Perez and Republican Andy Vidak, have already raised more than $1 million each. The three other candidates are in the mix are relegated to the Ralph Nader role as spoilers by possibly denying Perez the 51 percent necessary to prevent a runoff election in June.
Perez's rise in the local Democratic political party machine has been nothing short of stellar. And many (me among them) believe she won the recent debate hosted by Ralph Bailey. Although it bothers me immensely that she is ditching her current elected position for the first better thing to come along, I doubt it will bother registered Democrats in the 16th much if at all. What she will have trouble with is getting the troops to vote in Tuesday's special election, as well as overcoming being an unknown commodity in the Fresno area. As compared to registered Republican voters, Democrats have always had a historically lower voter turnout rate in off years and special elections. Vidak has a real chance.
If last year's Assembly race between Pedro Rios and Rudy Salas is indicative of the importance money will play in this special election, then I would think it would be a good time to own a local newspaper, radio station or, most notably, a TV station. If Perez loses, she will return to her job as a Kern County supervisor, and no doubt plan a run for California's 21st Congressional District in 2014. If she wins, she will do the same thing from her new perch in Sacramento.
Can Perez generate the flood of cash it will still require to get the word out (especially around Fresno) and to motivate the Hispanic community? Will Vidak and Francisco Ramirez get funding from strange new organizations not officially affiliated with the candidate?
Rubio's resignation has given us real insight into the process that often cumulates into state rules and regulations. In Rubio's case, it's all about a legislator who became expert at understanding and writing state rules and regulations in regard to the oil industry and using that unique skill set to net a non-lobbying job in the private sector, at an increase in pay by a factor of many. However, there is a far greater reaching concern here. Is Rubio's behavior a social norm at the state level? For that matter, is it a norm at the federal level? Then there's the question of Perez's unbridled political ambitions vs. keeping one's promises to one's constituents. Completing a term to an elected office is not important anymore.
I wonder if it ever was. No government, of the people and by the people will be or should be expected to be as clean as wind-driven snow. But the reasons for this election, and the anointing process for the successor, show a real ethical dilemma. I keep thinking that Chevron should have modified its offer to Rubio: "It's all yours, Sen. Rubio, after you complete your term."
Noel Pineo is a nonpartisan community activist in Oildale. He is also a substitute teacher, amateur paleontologist and vintage bicycle hobbyist. Community Voices is an expanded commentary of 650 to 700 words. The Californian reserves the right to edit all submissions for length and clarity.