As any experienced politician will tell you, the third rail in politics is taking on senior’s issues. It was an experience the Republican Party would learn to the hard way in 1995 when Bill Clinton was able to parlayed proposed changes to Medicare and Social Security into newfound traction against a Republican Congressional juggernaut fresh off impressive sweeps in the 1994 election. That rule applies no less in the city of Davis where now, Stephen Souza must grapple with an angry senior vote. What makes seniors a formidable force is not only their numbers but the fact that they all vote and they do not quickly forget who put their political power in jeopardy.
It is ironic that this issue comes out the outcrop of the last city commission battle with the HRC. There the council majority took advantage of the political weakness of the minority community to disband, put on hiatus, and finally severely curtail the power of the HRC. During the course of restructuring the HRC, the council subcommittee of two—Souza and Mayor Pro Tem Asmundson came up with the idea that they could merge the Senior Citizens Commission with the Social Services Commission.
Let us be clear on this issue, no matter how much Souza and Asmundson tried to back track off of their earlier claims and actions—the intent from the start was to merge the commissions. The rationale and the defense would come later.
As we discussed on December 14, 2006, the intent of Souza and Asmundson was merger not “generating discussion of the merger” as Souza would later post-hoc claim. Instead they placed on the September 12, 2006 council agenda a recommendation to merge the two commission along with a resolution that would enact that merger. The only reason it was not passed at that very meeting was that Councilmember Lamar Heystek and Mayor Sue Greenwald convinced the council majority to get more feedback.
Souza then took the item to both commission meetings. The Social Services Commission (stacked with a large number of council majority supporters) voted overwhelmingly to agree to the merger, but the Senior Citizens Commission strongly opposed such a merger. Led by Chair Elaine Musser Roberts, the Senior Citizens Commission fought back at the meeting, in the press, and in the community.
Armed with a petition of 140 Senior Citizens, Musser forced the council to backtrack. First staff recommended that they wait two years before reconsidering the merger and then finally the council put the idea to rest all together.
As we wrote at the time:
“The most striking part of this entire experience is the blatant dishonesty by the Councilmember Souza and Mayor Pro Tem Asmundson about their original intentions which were quite clear. They made serious errors about how they chose to approach this issue. It would have been a responsible thing to do to take a step back in September when these errors became apparent and put this process on a different trajectory. Instead, they tried to finesse around their mistakes and then deceive the public about their true intentions.”
For those who have not seen it, I highly recommend watching the video of Elaine Roberts Musser giving the council, specifically Souza and Asmundson a severe dressing down.
—Doug Paul Davis reporting