A Well-Crafted Bushalafesto — and My Response

Something interesting has happened over the past day in our comments section. A new and pseudonymous commenter to this site (and no, I don’t know who it is) writes:

Fullerton Drowned in a Bathtub

I have some advice for my fellow Democrats who support the recall — GET OUT AND VOTE JUNE 5! Go on Fullerton’s website and watch the video from the May 1 Council meeting, especially the public comments. First, Ron Thomas tried to distance himself from the Bushala camp — he knows where Tony’s interests lie. Second, watch the behavior and demeanor of the other speakers — and who they sit with when the cameras pan the audience.

Tony’s candidates Sebourn and Levinson attract an interesting crowd. I just wonder how committed they’ll be to associating with them if they win the election. This isn’t about public unions or water rates. Its about ideology and the need for one faction (fringe group?) to impose its will on 136,000 people.

Tony Bushala, founder and funder of the Fullerton recall, replies:

Incorrect. For decades a comparatively small faction has imposed its cretinous candidates on Fullerton. Party affiliation only mattered to each group during election time and after that they chained themselves together.

The result has been 30 years of Redevelopment boondoggles, illegal taxes, successful (and unsuccessful) attempts to spike public employee pensions, and finally a police force whose only mission seems to be to prove themselves bigger goons than the nightly drunken “guests” City policy has invited downtown.

The City is a mess. The recall is not about ideology, it’s about accountability. Accountability is only deemed ideological by those who are trying real hard to avoid it.

That’s about as clear a manifesto as I’ve seen from Tony and I’m happy to give it more prominence to readers who don’t frequent the website he runs. It nicely distills his public rationales for the recall. He does us all a service by laying it out clearly. This is a radical diagnosis that would presumably lead to radical treatment. We need a public debate over this, rather than an echo chamber at FFFF. So rather than reply to Tony in a comment, I’ve decided to present my response as an open letter to him in a separate post.

Tony: putting aside your assertions about chained-together cretins, I’m pretty much with you on four out of five major policy-related points you make, although I think that you oversimplify.

(1) I agree, though not happily, with the Governor on ending redevelopment. Unlike you, I think that it can be a useful policy tool in theory — but when some politicians start to use it to shunt money to contributors on boondoggles like sports stadiums, it needs to be set aside and retooled if possible.

(2) No one comes to a meeting and says “hey, let’s impose an illegal tax.” What is illegal, though, is often not as clear as a proponent thinks. You’re arguing one side of a case regarding the historical and current water tax; I don’t expect you to be even-handed. But presuming that a long-standing tax on which a good chunk of a city budget has depended should be chucked out immediately on the say-so of you and a “shrink government to where we can drown it in the bathtub” group like the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers’ Association is just bizarre — unless one’s intention is to bankrupt the city. (So far, you’ve avoided comment on that.)

(3) Pension spiking, at least where the promise of the ability to do so was not a specific inducement of hiring and is instead just a way to suck money out of the system, is a serious problem. The people who are able to engage in pension spiking, though, are a small minority of those who would be harmed by all but carefully crafted reforms that go after $300,000/year employees rather than $30,000/year employees.

(4) Few people — I won’t say “none” — want to have a thuggish police force. If you look around, though, this is a problem that to various degrees affects every city or other police force. Giving someone a gun, a taser, pepper spray, a club, and a group of similarly equipped people to run with is inviting trouble. On the other hand, not having a properly equipped police force is also asking for a different kind of trouble. (Does this really need to be explained?) Hiring lots of cops who have been rejected by other departments for being overly aggressive and capricious is an obvious mistake — and those involved with any such decisions deserve the criticism they get. But pretending that a large-scale purge of anyone who doesn’t agree that the city should err so strongly on the side of preventing police brutality that it can’t actually police itself is childishly unrealistic. Wow, guess what — effective policing is a tough problem, who knew? Policymakers can and do often screw it up. That’s why people who can perform this public service honestly and effectively might deserve a lot of money as well as (inevitably) a lot of heat.

Those were your four complaints; where I disagree is with your assertion: “The recall is not about ideology.”

In part you’re right — but if you were more right than wrong, you’d have a good answer to this question: what happens after all your efforts to shrink the city’s revenue go into effect? Unless you do want city government to drown in the bathtub, what are you really going to do about it — beyond electing people that you, with a charming sort of innocence, seem to think are above reproach?

You’ve helped to gut redevelopment. You’re gutting the water tax. You can’t touch existing public pensions without showing clear corruption. Even then, your best shot might be in municipal bankruptcy before a sympathetic judge — which is a tool your crew discusses longingly but you deflect rather than admit favoring, probably because it’s drastic medicine with huge side effects. You don’t seem to want public debate on any solutions other than easy and simplistic ones like “don’t waste,” “don’t be corrupt,” and “don’t do injustice” — as if your candidates had a magic wand and could solve the problems of governance just by being “good guys.”

You don’t invite choking off the city’s income without having a serious plan — a publicly debated before Election Day — for what to do when the city’s service providers do become “small enough to drown in a bathtub,” as anti-tax jihadist Grover Norquist puts it. Fullerton will continue to exist if and when a FFFF-friendly Council majority is installed. Fullerton will still need policing; it will still need public services; it will still depend to some degree on amenities like libraries and attractive streets to attract residents and businesses.

The intensive attempt NOT to deal with the reality that getting your way might impose on the majority of residents and visitors who can’t afford to hire private security forces instead of police is what makes the recall — or at least the support of replacement candidates who support the FFFF-style “consequence-free” razing of government — ideological. Where’s the accountability of those making the proposals? We’re talking mass-layoffs if you get your way, right? Can’t you say that out loud? Does the whole FFFF-affiliated campaign depend on voters not connecting the dots?

An actual discussion on this topic of post-shrinked-government Fullerton could be a great public service, which is why I have made it a separate post.   But, if a smart-aleckly dismissal is all that we will get from you, then let’s get on with it and have that.

About Greg Diamond

Somewhat verbose attorney, semi-retired due to disability, residing in northwest Brea. Occasionally runs for office against bad people who would otherwise go unopposed. Got 45% of the vote against Bob Huff for State Senate in 2012; Josh Newman then won the seat in 2016. In 2014 became the first attorney to challenge OCDA Tony Rackauckas since 2002; Todd Spitzer then won that seat in 2018. Every time he's run against some rotten incumbent, the *next* person to challenge them wins! He's OK with that. Corrupt party hacks hate him. He's OK with that too. He does advise some local campaigns informally and (so far) without compensation. (If that last bit changes, he will declare the interest.)