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The McConnell Report • September 1, 2008
Sprint to November
I am writing this article in August. Typically, this is the slow time of year for legislation and for political activities that might affect rental housing providers. In years past, I have had some difficulty writing an article that would be newsworthy over the summer and you may recall seeing some of my musings like the “Just Mustard” series.
That is not a problem this summer, because when your receive this article, we will be in a sprint to the November Elections in which the voters of America will have the first chance in history to vote for an African American candidate for the highest office in the land and the most powerful position on the planet.
There is little doubt in my mind that Barack Obama will carry the Bay Area. It is usually very hard to find Republican votes here. But, in this contest there is a convergence of many things that will make this a landslide area for Obama.
First and foremost, from my perspective, Obama is the best candidate. He is young, articulate, and inspiring. His speeches bring to mind Martin Luther King, Jr., and John and Bobby Kennedy. Like those three, his oratory takes us beyond where we are and points to a bolder and brighter future.
Like many of my readers, I don’t like the sound of some of the policy positions he has articulated because some of them sound like more government regulation. Anyone who has seen this up front and close, as in Berkeley styled rent control, has to be cautious. But, what is amazing about this gentleman is that even though his polices and some of his close allies are a little scary, he is not. He is an extraordinary leader who can bring people together.
Another reason he will carry this region is that people are just sick and tired of Bush type government. Over the last eight years, we have seen the country grow more and more divided as it has slid into a deep dark hole of bad politics and a failing economy. The war goes on, the economy gets worse, and the “answers” that Bush and company speak of don’t seem to give us much hope that things will improve. Try as he might, in this region there is little doubt that McCain will be seen as Bush III and he will carry all of the baggage that goes with that.
Usually, in an election year, the incumbent party in office tries to showcase an improved economy. I think Bush did that with his tax rebates, but he failed. To the contrary, throughout the country, businesses are cutting jobs due to a variety of factors including the housing sector implosion, energy costs, the war, and outsourcing of jobs to foreign countries. Bush did not cause all of this on his own, but he certainly has done very little to make things better.
The effects of our economic slide are everywhere and they have been devastating. In Sacramento, thousands of people were laid off or had their salaries slashed because the sate could not balance the budget when housing tax revenues dried up. In cities around the Bay, governments are showing huge deficits. Oakland, for example, is looking at a reported $50 million shortfall which will have devastating consequences on how that city will ensure basic services like public safety.
To be sure, Obama will not fix these major problems all by himself. Neither would Clinton or any other candidate for President. When he gets to Washington, he will encounter an entrenched political apparatus, road blocking special interests (from business and the non-profit lobby machines) and a government bureaucracy that is like a 10 zillion pound lead weight.
I have been in lobbying for a long time and have seen how entrenched groups protect their own narrow interests and keep their petty concerns alive. In Sacramento, I have worked with landlords, tenants and trial attorneys and forged together coalitions only to see them undermined by hardliners on the right and left who could garner the votes to kill something, but never to pass anything.
On the other hand, I know that the greatest piece of California legislation ever on housing, Costa Hawkins, was the product of collaboration between the most prestigious liberals and conservatives in the state. It is my hope that Obama will create coalitions like this in Washington and make it possible for people on different sides of the aisle to come together on important issues of the day and not be limited by entrenched groups.
I hold this hope with full recognition that the task will be difficult. But it is not impossible. Heck, if a black man (actually a mixed race man) who grew up without a father and who certainly isn’t a man of privileged background, can get this close to being President of the United States, almost anything is possible.
This election gives Americans the chance to say that if you are aggressive, if you work hard, if you demonstrate that you are qualified, you can achieve anything. In my mind, Obama represents a chance for all Americans to look at our opportunities, to overcome our pasts, and to be all that we can be. Yes, that sounds trivial, but it is real.
That is the dream for this country that King spoke about; that the day would come “when people are judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” Obama brings that dream closer to reality than any other time that I have known.
That is what I want for my children. Isn’t that what we all want?
For the record, Obama did not approve this message. But, it is my column, so I can say what I want.
Greg McConnell is the principal consultant at The McConnell Group, a consulting and advocacy firm that specializes in housing issues and advises apartment and housing associations, property management companies, and individual owners throughout California. For more information please visit www.themcconnellgroup.com.
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