Frenzy at the Polls: What Will We Decide?

Historic presidential election and a whole lot more at stake

A black president in our lifetime? Hard to believe. A Republican woman vice president, and from the backwoods of Alaska, no less? Almost as amazing.

Maybe it takes an historic election with billions spend campaigning to wake up America but I can't help wondering how much voters will know about the long list of measures and candidates for public office they face.

It seems more like a lottery than an election but I'm sure that's what the politicians and the various interests behind the ballot measures were counting on, especially the Democrats who knew back in June that Barack Obama would bring huge numbers of new voters to the polls, voters with a proclivity to support higher taxes.

And there's a lot of higher taxes to support.

Take Measure R on the local ballot -- a half cent sales tax for transportation projects. How many voters have a clue about what it is supposed to do and whether it actually will relieve congestion on our roads and get vast numbers of people to take public transit?

The mailers and TV ads don't ever say, relying on symbolic messages carefully honed through focus groups and polling.

You didn't see ads talking about the special interests behind it like the foundation that supports the Los Angeles County Museum of Art which chipped in $900,000 in non-profit contributions because the subway 20 years down the road might stop there and actually improve its dismal attendance record.

Or will Proposition A,  the regressive tax of $36 a year on every property regardless of size of value, actually solve the gang problem or Measure B really provide affordable housing? Will the educational system be turned around with new buildings promised Measure J 's tax for community colleges or Measure Q for LAUSD?

Who doesn't want an end to gridlock, low-cost housing, kids in school learning to read and write rather than in gangs learning to kill and steal? But are the policies put before for us thoughtful efforts to solve these problems and is there real accountability or are they purely political opportunities to raise money?

Needless to say I'm skeptical but fascinated to see what the people decide, what it says about us at a time of economic crisis, of state and local governments that face massive deficits and of societal problems that seem to be reaching the breaking point where bold leadership and public unity are desperately needed.

Are gay marriage and the size of coops for the mass production of chickens and eggs on the state ballot really the heart of what's the matter?

For most, it's the chance to vote for President that motivates them to go to the polls today although the biggest direct impact on their lives will come from how they decide local and state issues.

That Obama will win California is as close to a certainty as anything. That how California votes will determine the outcome is as unlikely as winning the lottery.

That's the irony of this moment. From my point of view, the outcome on the issues and candidates on the ballot matters far less than whether the people drawn to the polls by this historic election begin to pay attention to what's going on in their communities and get involved in making them better by whatever values they have.

What America needs is not more people at the polls or higher or lower taxes or Democrats or Republicans in power. What it needs is for the people to take responsibility for the way things are all the other days of the year.

Somehow I still cling to the idea that democracy isn't about voting -- even dictatorships have elections -- it's about empowerment and participation.

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