Benjamin Franklin said there were two things certain in life: Death and taxes! When it comes to special interests’ involvement in influencing our government, I can add two more certainties: Bad policies and more taxes to cover the costs of those policies.
To be clear, I’m referring to special interest groups that specifically work to create policies that financially benefit themselves and their members. There are many groups that genuinely care about improving the lives of others. The special interest groups I’m referring to are those that invest thousands of dollars in elected officials through campaign contributions and in return usually profit millions of dollars from favorable policies. To be more specific, in our community, I’m mainly referring to developers and those looking to profit from more growth.
Most of us can now agree that the out of control growth in our community over the last several years has created major issues for our infrastructure. Our highways have become severely congested. Local roads have become obstacle courses. Local schools are bursting at the seams because of the number of new students. Yet, with all of these issues plaguing our community, special interests groups continue to buy their way to more destruction of our community, leaving the rest of us to clean up the mess and foot the bill.
Several years ago, I began sounding the alarm bells about the repercussions of too much growth at such a rapid pace. I warned about the impact of too much traffic and the lack of funds to build more roads. I warned about the wear and tear on local roads and the enormous amount of funding it would take to repair them. I also warned about the impact to our schools with higher enrollment numbers and lack of classroom space, which would lead to more taxes to build more schools.
As I became more vocal in my warnings about the problems headed our way, I noticed that many of the local elected officials that were ignoring the warnings were suddenly gathering more and more campaign contributions from special interest groups. In the past election, one individual collected nearly $100,000 in contributions for his campaign and many others collected tens of thousands of dollars in contributions to continue supporting more residential growth in our community.
It didn’t take me long to realize that many elected officials cared more about contributions to their campaigns than the future of our community. It also became very clear to me that very little would change if we didn’t limit campaign contributions and also make campaign contributions more transparent.
The City of Hollister did implement new rules regarding campaign contributions this year, but unfortunately, one campaign has already violated reporting rules and a few special interest groups from San Jose seem not to care what the local rules are as long as they get their candidate elected.
We live in a beautiful community and we still have a chance at preserving our rich history by making decisions that we know will benefit our entire community, rather than just enrich a few individuals and their groups. The key is to learn to say “no” to the old ways of these special interest groups. It’s time we hold candidates and elected officials accountable and no longer allow special interests money to decide the future of our community. Through better local planning we can preserve what we have or we will become just another suburb of San Jose.
The answer is simple: Say NO to Special Interest Groups!
Ignacio Velazquez is the Mayor of the City of Hollister. He wrote this column for the Free Lance.