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Tuesday, March 21, 2023

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News + PoliticsOpinionThe national pundits can complain, but in SF, progressives get things done

The national pundits can complain, but in SF, progressives get things done

The San Francisco left is fighting for things that the national Democratic Party has abandoned.


California absentee ballots have hit the mail; It’s now less than two weeks until Election Day. Game is on.

The San Francisco ballot, as usual, is an overloaded list of initiatives— distinctly high octane and framed to make the voters “pick a side.”  It also includes a boatload of School Board, district attorney, City College, and supervisor and city candidates. A very long ballot (without even mentioning the state and national stuff).

Lazy national pundits are already lining up to pick the low-hanging (and fake) fruit planted by what they like to call our “one-party-do-nothing” electeds. Our “wacko” Democrats (we don’t have any Republicans in office) keep fighting each other while the drug-fueled, crime-ridden, dirty, lazy homeless population runs amok and keeps ruining a once a beautiful city of cable cars and harmless hippies. Or so the pundits say.

Tim Paulson, then the director of the Labor Council, speaks at a demo outside a Google apps convention

In San Francisco reality these “wackos” come in three general bundles: 1) the progressives, 2) the moderates, and 3) the few who would be probably be Republicans if they lived anywhere else. (Until the 1970’s most San Francisco electeds were Republican, local and successful white business men who could afford to be a supervisor when the job only had stipend-like compensation.)

(The labor movement is also arrayed in this same general three-party spectrum.)

San Francisco progressives push the envelope and fight for the things that national and statewide Democrats have abandoned. (Bill Clinton’s folks took the reins more than 20 years ago. “Entitlement” became a “no-no.” “Empowerment” became the catchword to gain votes even if it meant writing laws like “Nobody Left Behind” which kicked struggling single mothers off the safety net of a welfare check. “So be it,” The Clintonites said. “We won and now we will support NAFTA….”)

Succumbing to this attitude drives San Francisco moderates to win some elections while progressives keep fighting for worker and civil rights. (Those in Group 3 vote against everything—10-1, 9-2 at the 11-member Board of Supes.

Room 200, which has been some type of a Willie Brown Administration for over 20 years, (Willie, Newsom, Lee, Breed) usually fight or tries to block progressives at the Board. An 8-3 vote becomes a veto proof political goal. A 6-5 majority is weak.

But San Francisco, contrary to the nation pundits, actually gets more done than any city in America.

As a Public Utilities Commission member, I see first-hand the difference in a city that invests and believes in rebuilding and maintaining infrastructure. Just look at Jackson, Mississippi where the landlords and planters and no tax Republicans of the poorest red state in America have allowed Jackson to deteriorate so badly that residents can no longer access clean water. That’s what real “do-nothing wackos” do.

San Francisco progressives (usually in partnership with labor) have championed the first $15 Minimum Wage; The Health Care Security Act (which mandates health care for most workers—the blueprint for the groundbreaking though watered down Affordable Care Act which provides health to millions who couldn’t afford it);  Sick Days; Family Leave; Rent Control; local Prevailing Wages; a Living Wage for government contractors.  

San Francisco progressives have a track record of fighting for workers, immigrants, women, gay rights, and same sex marriage. Their list and envelope of values is substantial, and San Francisco is often the model exported to the Sacramento and the rest of the country.

Moderates don’t initiate this stuff and or even support the agenda and often stoop to calling them “job killers.” (Similar to Reagan’s “Trickle Down” corporate tax cuts bullshit that falsely promised more jobs.) But when the progressive/labor coalitions build enough power and momentum, moderate supervisors usually capitulate by being the 8th, 9th, 10th or 11thth vote, in order to attending that signing ceremony or making sure they are seen at the victorious election parties.   

The biggest obstacles to equity and eliminating poverty are, in a nutshell, twofold:

  • the many pronged real estate and development industry and,
  • the profit-driven medical, drug and insurance conglomerates.

Moderates try to incrementally push them, make deals with them (and take their campaign contributions).

Progressives know they might to fight ‘em. (And industry money goes into PACs to attempt to defeat those progressives).

The symptoms that national headline pundits exploit? Untreated drug addition, street crime, and homelessness. Their dramatic outrage is usually peppered with big dramatic street photos of homeless camps and mug shots of random arrestees.

A recent fucked-up example of his inequity is hearing that people are actually choosing to earn a living by putting on dark clothes to crawl under cars after midnight to yank out catalytic converts for a black market instead of seeing an available good paying union job such as a bus operator at Muni with a steady schedule, health care and other benefits.

Progressives fight for legislation and funding that supports women, workers, immigrants, and LGBTQR rights no matter what their political fates or ambitions. They LIVE as Progressives.

The debate over housing Props D and E also draws lines and makes voters pick a side. Prop. D was put on by Mayor Breed and her allies via signature gathering after she’d vetoed two progressive bills that passed the board—without an 8-3 veto proof vote.

Prop E inserts a phrase that mandates that “skilled and trained” workers will build the project which the building trades demanded. Prop E was put on the ballot by progressive supervisors and inserts a higher percentage of real affordable housing.

Prop D folks say that E is a “job killer” and this mandate to discourage developers to invest in housing. We need all types of housing! Don’t impose restrictions!

The E folks counter that we can’t open the floodgate to market-rate-only housing because that will not help low-income workers and families afford to stay in the city. (The Labor Council likes Prop E; the Building Trades liked Prop D until they got their language inserted in E. Both are now united opposed to D and in favor of E.

I hope everyone votes!

Tim Paulson  recently retired as head of the San Francisco Labor and the Building and Construction Trades Councils, the first person to have held both positions. Paulson also serves as a San Francisco Public Utilities Commissioner.

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