Professor Jacobson made an exceedingly important point yesterday: Our focus must be on “changing what we can change, protecting what we can protect, undermining what we can undermine, acting locally.”
Based on my experience in San Diego, I cannot stress enough the vital role that local activism is playing in fiscal reform.
Here is Exhibit A as proof of the success of can-do citizen activism: Proposition B – San Diego’s Pension Reform Initiative.
The measure, which passed in June 2012 with over 65% of the votes, put new city employees (except police) into a 401(k) style pension, rather than a defined benefits package.
This measure was spear-headed by Carl DeMaio, the former San Diego mayoral candidate and City Council member, who has now turned into a taxpayer watchdog by organizing two separate reform groups (one focused on San Diego, one on California).
Carl DeMaio at the Tierrasanta Albertsons
I can attest to how active and effective DeMaio was during the campaign for the ballot measure. He went to grocery stores, malls, and other public facilities all throughout the city to directly confront the distortions presented by the city’s pubic employee unions. In fact, here was a typical exchange between DeMaio and a union member sent specifically to target the pension reform measure at that event:
Impressively, Carl was extremely polite during the entire discourse — as well as extremely informative. It this time vile attacks based on bold-faced lies, such civilized dialog was quite refreshing and a testament to the adult approach so often lacking in today’s politics.
The union member insisted the entire pension problem could be solved by minor fixes. As Carl noted: “This is not something can be solved by going around the edges. The real solution means going to the core of the problem. The City of San Diego cannot have a budget that, at its center, is funded by a Ponzi Scheme.”
During this chat, I overheard the union member complain that he would lose all he paid into the system and its interest. In fact, his entire focus was on all HE would lose.
This direct approach at the local level may be just the activity that saves California from fiscal collapse. Additionally, San Jose also passed a similar pension reform measure the same day. As investment firms project several California cities collapsing under the weight of public employee pensions, the San Diego approach can be the template for future initiatives.
Our entire team of citizen pundits promoted and spread the information related to Proposition B, which was also critical to pushing-back on the heavy union campaigning against the measure. San Diego conservatives understood this was a must-win vote. As W.C. Varones noted in writing about Scott Walker’s victory in Wisconsin:
“This was the moment when the rise of the [unions] began to slow, and our [country] began to heal.”
Proposition B’s passage is when San Diego began to heal from its public employee pension mess.