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December 14, 2008

Contra Costa’s Supes on the Proposition 8 Issue: Cowards or Pragmatists?

Contra Costa County’s Board of Supervisors decided to become the first county in the Bay Area to not join in a lawsuit opposing the passage of Proposition 8, despite the fact that 55 percent of voters in our county opposed the measure.

So reports the Contra Costa Times. With this 4-1 vote against joining in the lawsuit, our five supervisors decided Contra Costa County would not join a dozen other Bay Area counties and cities in a petition challenging Prop. 8 in the California Supreme Court.


Three of the supervisors who voted against taking a stand against Prop. 8 cited concerns to the Times that they needed to focus their attention on serious county issues, including our county’s fiscal crisis, rather than on a statewide measure.

Reports the Times:

"It's not an issue of not listening, it's the issue of where our focus needs to remain, and I agree we need to very clearly be focusing our energies on the immediate financial crisis," said Supervisor Susan Bonilla, of Concord, 57 percent of whose District 4 voters said “no” to Prop. 8.

Supervisor Gayle Uilkema of Lafayette added: "We have so much on our plate right now, particularly after having a day where we were slashing jobs and positions.” Her District 2 voted overwhelmingly against Prop. 8: 60 percent “no”; 40 percent “yes.”

District 5, represented by Supervisor Federal Glover, of Pittsburg, was the only area that voted “yes” on 8. He, too, cited local concerns as the reason the county should stay out of the debate. Mary Piepho expressed her personal views that marriage should be between a man and a woman, a view out of step with voters in her District 3, 53 percent of whom voted no on Prop. 8.

The only supervisor to dissent was John Gioia of Richmond, who, according to the Times said, "I believe in the underlying argument that Prop. 8 violates constitutional rights, and voters expressed their will in Contra Costa and opposed Prop. 8.”

By the way, their vote was held in closed session. My limited understanding of state law regarding open meetings is that elected officials can hold meetings in closed session if it involves personnel matters or pending litigation. Is pending litigation the justification that the supervisors held this discussion in closed session? I’ve emailed the reporter, Matthias Gafni, to ask. As much as I or others might complain about some of the Times local coverage, one thing the paper is scrappy about is its willingness to battle any possible First Amendment violations by government officials.

Okay, so I have openly stated my opposition to Prop. 8, and, yes, the voters of Contra Costa County have clearly expressed opposition to it. So, why did our elected representatives "wuss" out?

Actually, my thinking on this question is not so clear-cut, believe it or not. When the supervisors said they didn’t think it was really their battle to fight, that they had other very pressing local issues on their plate to deal with, I could see their point. I think of how annoying, presumptuous, and self-important it is when the city councilors of the “People’s Republic of Berkeley” spend time debating and voting on such as matters as calling for the impeachment of President Bush. I sympathize with the woes of Berkeley residents who wish their elected representatives would focus less on calling for Bush’s impeachment—which is really out of their control—and more attention on fixing potholes or dealing with the city’s never-ending homeless problem.

At the same time, this 4-1 vote by Contra Costa’s supervisors smells of cowardice and political expediency. Gioia said it wouldn’t cost the county anything in terms of money to join the lawsuit. It would probably cost the county supervisors and other employees little in terms of time to get involved, as well.

I’ll give him Glover his due: He truly voted in line with the wishes of his constituents. Piepho (my supervisor, I’m sad to say) did not; she says she voted her “conscience” and her own personal beliefs. The two true wusses in this situation are Uilkema and Bonilla (whom I know is beloved by some local political progressives I know). Their districts said “no” to Prop. 8. But I wonder whether Uilkema was worried about angering those 39 percent of voters in her district who voted “yes,” while Bonilla didn’t want to alienate her 43 percent of “yes” voters.

I don’t know. I’ve still mired in my own internal debate about the supervisors’ decision. If anyone else wants to chime in, please do.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

I am glad most of the Contra Costa Sups had the maturity and intelligence not to take a position on an issue completely outside of their charter and scope.

Anonymous said...

Anon: I'm so with you. Stay out of it.

Anonymous said...

The supes wimped out completely, an embarrassment. It's OK to vote against joining the law suit, but to blame it on too much county business at hand, is such a total cop out. Joining the law suit would, as Gioia saud, take very little county money or time. It's largely symbolic. Truth is, the four against are against gay marriage but rather then get into this, tried to skip out of town fast. The larger discussion is worth discussing even among lowly county supervisors (nonpartisan), as this equal rights issue won't go away. It will catch up with any elected official who tries to run from it. Study after study show younger folks nationwide are far more supportive of gay rights (hey, what's the big deal, there are far biggest national issues we face), than oldsters, in the suburbs or anywhere.

John Gioia said...

As you accurately stated in your blog, joining the lawsuit would not have cost the county any additional money or time. The City and County of SF are spearheading the lawsuit and we would just have been listed as an additional plaintiff on this very important issue. We "multi-task" all the time on issues; who says we can't focus on more than one issue at a time. Thanks for your observations.