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idea concept with light bulbs on a blue backgroundWhile not the brightest bulb in the box, or whatever, I do know that politics can be, and generally is, a dirty game. It probably always was like that, but the recent postings regarding Dennis Donohue and the mayor of Watsonville, plus knowing a bit about the shenanigans of other local pols such as Dave Potter and Jose Castenada, I have to say that, in the day, local politics were a lot more civil.

Nationally, I think most people would agree with me that the cream of the crop in both parties has not risen to be the presidential candidates. While I am a Democrat and personally don’t dislike Hillary, she has so much baggage that even Southwest Airlines would think twice about taking on her suitcases and she is so establishment as to suggest she won’t be as creative and out of the box as she indicates, if elected. And while Bernie has some ideas worth considering, how do you think he would do trying to get a Congress behind him to actually pass some legislation that would be good for America?

I don’t know what others think of Trump, on the GOP side, but there are some stellar Republicans as well who could have served the country as president by actually listening to and working with those elements who would not be died-in-the-wool, extreme conservatives, in order to get something actually done.

But the above observations don’t relate to the dirty aspect of today’s politics – now clearly at all levels.

The dirtiest aspect involves the money spent and where it comes from. There should be limits on what individuals and corporations can contribute that would apply to PACs as well. The average Joe should be able to be somewhat on par with the Kochs and the other deep pockets who find ways to spend zillions. Unfortunately, attack ads funded by the big rollers and PACs seem to be the major source of information upon which way too many voters base their decisions.

The second dirtiest aspect involves time. It makes no sense to have a presidential and congressional election cycle that can last for two years, which in turn, requires more and more money, the major source of “dirtiness.” The states insist on having their own caucuses and primaries, with their own inconsistent rules. As a result of events from January to June, many delegates who will vote at the conventions for a candidate are selected by less than democratic values. Then, from June to November, another six months, more millions are spent, more attack ads are aired, and in the end, the voters have to make a decision, based mostly on allegations of wrongdoing, mishandlings and other mistakes of the other candidate, as opposed to clear and substantive debates and discussions about global and collaborative plans for the future.

Why can’t there be a consistent plan imposed on all states to have a period of 90 days max when candidates seeking the office can argue, debate, discuss, etc. their qualifications and plans if elected, followed by a national primary date – all on the same day? And, by the way, the delegates selected would be all determined on a single, consistent basis? Yes, I know, it won’t happen — but the process has worked pretty well in other democratic states, with less money spent and with generally OK results. I add that nothing is perfect. But, the present system in the U.S. is so far less than perfect, almost any positive change would be welcomed.

Back in the day, I remember the conventions as the place where decisions were made on presidential candidates. Yes, there were backroom deals, and money was a factor, but not like right now. There was a real sense of importance that captured the strong interest of the entire country. Recall Dewey vs Truman, and Ike running for the first time. Those were heady days, when most of the adults I was around were glued to their TVs and actually cared about the results, not having been reduced to glazed-eye robots from months of TV interviews, attack ads, etc.

There was a fair amount of character assassination back in the day, but not nearly as much as today. At the local level, and I was involved with local politicians on the Peninsula back in the 1970s, people running for office did so in a civil way, proclaiming their qualifications and what should and could be done without calling an opponent a jerk, loser, or incompetent. I remember one of the Monterey County supervisors who didn’t like me and my work at AMBAG. But we met over a drink at Tom Hudson’s law office and worked out our differences and drank to it. Try that today.

Back in the day, politics was entertaining as a relatively civil and high-level enterprise. Local politicians were accessible for the most part and actually took their responsibility to represent the best interests of their constituents. Today, some do, but too many don’t. The 40-year water crisis, particularly over the past five years, is a good example of the “don’t” variety.

Back in the day, even state politicians were different. I recall Jesse Unruh, who was an icon for many years as speaker of the Assembly. He could play politics with the best of them, and did so – but he did it, for the most part, in a public way. Even Jerry Brown and Ronald Reagan were mostly open and accessible back then. I lived only about two blocks from Reagan in Sacramento, and he could be approached without a lot of difficulty. Of course 9/11 changed all that, but how easy is it for the average California voter to write his/her rep in Sacramento or the governor’s office and receive prompt and helpful responses? Good luck with that.

So, I leave it with this: Donohue is a bad guy; Parker is a good woman; Monning stood up against Donohue so he must be a good guy; Stone has been quiet, but he is a nice and therefor a good guy; Jimmy Panetta has to win because his dad is a respected good guy, and by the way, he has received a lot of money for his campaign; and Mary Adams must beat Dave Potter because he’s been there way too long.

Without any reference to what I might actually know, I could conclude all the above, right or wrong, by just reading what others are saying about our local pols. In the day, opinions seemed to be based more upon actual exposure to the actors themselves, one way or another.

Back in the day is past. Today needs help.

Hood is a retired water lawyer and engineer and former head of the Association of Monterey Bay Area Governments. He lives in Carmel and Ohio.


LARRY PARSONS: Nixon knew when to give reality an assist


In the final run-up to Election Day, crazy stuff can happen. Or things can be made to look like crazy stuff happened.

Events often move like quicksilver as campaigns near the wire, while the sorting of facts about what really went down may take years to resolve. Or not.

There’s still plenty of room for conjecture about one of the strangest events in American political history, which took place 44 years ago just a few miles north of Monterey County.

At a noon rally on Halloween Day in 1970, then-President Richard Nixon took the stage at a Phoenix, Ariz., airport as several supporters held a large banner a few feet away that said, “We don’t want to know the way to San Jose.”

The message wasn’t a knock on the catchy 1968 song by Dionne Warwick or the still provincial Santa Clara County capital that would blossom within a decade into the civic center of Silicon Valley.

It referred to something that had happened two nights earlier — Oct. 29, 1970  — just outside the San Jose Civic Auditorium during a furious round of Nixon appearances to bolster the GOP’s flagging support before the 1970 midterm election.

If you think America is polarized today, think again. The turbulence of 1970 makes today’s deep divisions seem like hairline cracks in fairly new concrete. 1970 was the year of the secret war in Cambodia, the killings of four protesters at Kent State and an estimated 1,000 domestic bombings.

Such was the backdrop for what took place in San Jose. In what remains a unique happening in American  presidential history, the president’s departing motorcade, including the car that carried Nixon and then California Gov. Ronald Reagan, was pelted by rocks and eggs thrown from a crowd of about 1,000 there to protest a potpourri of causes, from the Vietnam War and the plight of California farmworkers to the immediate fates of aerospace workers in Mountain View.

A few moments before the rock-and-egg shower, Nixon had climbed onto the hood of his limousine, standing with feet apart and thrusting both arms toward the heavens as he flashed the V for peace sign with both hands. The crowd went crazy, and there ensued a few minutes of disorder that concerned the heck out of hundreds of San Jose cops and Secret Service agents trying to protect the officials.

“That’s what they hate to see,” Nixon was reported to gleefully tell an aide as he got back in the bullet-proof limo.

Both the president and Gov. Reagan, who would win his second term a few nights later, flashed more “peace signs” from their seats as the motorcade parted the angry protesters.

Reactions to accounts of the near-riot, which to the chagrin of San Jose officialdom flew out on the national and international wires, were predictably divided.

Nixon and his attack dog Vice President Spiro Agnew wasted no time in milking the spectacle for political capital. In his Phoenix speech, the president called upon America’s silent majority to stand up “against appeasement of the rock throwers and obscenity shouters.” At an Illinois rally, Agnew declared it was “time to sweep that kind of garbage out of society.”

The president’s political foes viewed the incident with suspicion, seeing it as being overblown or another Nixon dirty trick.

A wire service reporter, years later, called the San Jose confrontation and White House’s political profiteering “a con so crafty it even fooled the Secret Service.”

In the face of immediate criticism and pesky questions from the press, the White House allowed a few reporters to inspect the dings on the presidential limousine on Nov. 3.

Top Nixon aide H.R. Haldeman, in his posthumous 1994 insider account of the White House, allowed how the Rumble at the Civic was blown up as “a huge incident … We worked hard to crank it up.”

A few months later,  a Santa Clara County judge, in dismissing the 1970 grand jury that investigated the mini-riot, offered his perspective, saying the affair was a “tempest in a teapot and was blown all out of proportion.” The judge said “certain people know why that was done.”

But the San Jose fracas, described by Nixon speechwriter William Safire as “the most serious mob attack on a national leader in American history,” may well have had a deeper impact than simply supplying the White House with pungent, 11th-hour rhetoric against its foes in November 1970.

In his 1975 book Before the Fall, Safire said Nixon’s tactics for his 1972 re-election campaign were sealed the weekend after the San Jose confrontation. And everyone knows what happened with that campaign.

The answer to the vexing historical question, Why Watergate? could open with a few bars of that Dionne Warwick tune. It may well have started in San Jose.

There should be a plaque about it all in front of the historic, city-owned auditorium, which was rechristened City National Civic last year after its corporate sponsor.

The events center website tells the tale today drained of all its historic drama. It notes, in passing, the venue has played host to political figures, “such as the 1970 visit from then-President Richard Nixon that made national headlines when he was confronted by Anti-War protesters.”