Swearengin had no faith in a) her constituents and/or b) herself

Swearengin had no faith in a) her constituents and/or b) herself

swearenginFresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin — an articulate, TV-savvy, photogenic Republican — is a good bet to finish second in the June 3 state primary for controller behind former Assembly Speaker John Perez, a Los Angeles Democrat who will then go on to defeat Swearengin 56%-44% in November.

But for some on the right — and for lots of people who believe in direct democracy — that probably would be fine by them. Regular CWD contributor John Hrabe explains what drives the phenomenon in which Swearengin’s biggest detractors come from what should be her base:

“The battle over Fresno’s water rates began last August, when the city approved a plan supported by Mayor Ashley Swearengin to increase the average water bill to $48 per month. The city says that the additional revenue is needed for a $410 million upgrade to the city’s aging water system. But, some residents of the city and unincorporated parts of Fresno County balked at the prospect of higher water bills, which are expected to double by 2016.

“When taxpayers attempted to circulate a petition to overturn the plan, the City of Fresno denied the taxpayers a title and summary for their referendum. Then, the city sued the taxpayers to prevent their initiative from entering circulation. The move appeared to be a direct violation of the California Constitution. Section 3 of Article 13C states that ‘the initiative power shall not be prohibited or otherwise limited in matters of reducing or repealing any local tax, assessment, fee or charge.’

“The city says that the lawsuits were necessary in order to fulfill its obligation to deliver an essential public service to residents. … Yet, 11 judges have disagreed with the city’s arguments in the case. Most recently, the California Supreme Court denied the city’s petition for review of a 5th District Court of Appeals ruling, which held that the city has a legal obligationto issue a petition title and summary.”

Not up to task of persuading Fresno residents?

On this issue, I started out thinking Swearengin was dead wrong. But the more I think about it, the more I understand the peril of having a state in which citizens can vote on their utility rates. Of course that’s likely to lead to chaos.

But, I’m sorry, Swearengin is still dead wrong. Whatever the circumstances, an elected leader shouldn’t defy clearly written state laws, as she did. Instead, you make your case to voters.

Swearengin chose dirty pool over taking the high road. She either …

A) … didn’t think the voters she would have to convince were bright enough to understand that utilities which have fixed bills and obligations aren’t the same as local governments which often tolerate bad status quos because of political influence or an acceptance of incompetence; or …

B) …. didn’t think she was enough of a leader to win over voters to the logic of her argument.

I am slightly more understanding of why Swearingen did what she did than I used to be. I also think her critics on the right need to cogitate more on the difference between utilities and local governments.

But ultimately I think the liberal Fresno Bee editorial page pretty much nailed the right way to characterize the Fresno mayor’s actions back in November:

“We support the water-rate increases; they are vital to the city’s future. But with these stalling and blocking tactics, Swearengin sends a message that she doesn’t trust Fresno voters to do what’s best for the city.”

She also doesn’t seem to trust her own competence at a politician’s most basic skill: the ability to win over people who disagree with you.

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