A tiny town in the pristine high wilderness of eastern San Diego County made history tonight with the nation's first-ever up or down vote on Blackwater, the infamous, private mercenary army. The people spoke and the answer was clear: no to Blackwater. And a resounding yes to democracy. Would that our politicians could act as decisively.
I'm here at the San Diego registrar of voter's headquarters, an enormous one story warehouse-style building that very much resembles a major post office facility. Those of us who came to watch the votes being counted were escorted to the back of the office portion of the building where twenty or so people sat in a small conference room. Extra chairs were brought in so that we all had seats to watch seven election officials sitting around the big conference table, counting ballots one at a time with meticulous care.
As Julia Rosen says, the counting took over five hours, even though only 280 or so ballots were cast.
The ballot is complicated. Voters decide whether or not to recall each of five members of the Potrero Community Planning Group. And then they vote for a replacement. It's the same principle behind the recall of Governor Davis, except in this case five incumbents were tossed out, all by people power without the "help" of expensive consultants, like Chris Lehane, whose "assistance" to Gray Davis brought us Arnold Schwarzenegger. (Expect Lehane to take on Blackwater as a client any day now.)
As trite as it sounds, it really is a David and Goliath story. The David in this case is personified by Carl Meyer, a farmer who used democracy to hit Blackwater between the eyes by leading the recall effort. The Courage Campaign, which has been organizing against Blackwater's attempt to invade California since last April, produced a two and a half minute video introducing Carl. We waited until after the election to release it. (Thanks to producer/directors Shaun Kadlec and Deb Tullman for a terrific job.)
The vote count is clear and stunning: of just over 280 votes cast, (59% turnout) each of the incumbents was recalled with at least 63% in favor and each of the anti-Blackwater (pro-Potrero) candidates received no less than 71% of the votes. The new members will take their office upon certification of the results; the registrar told us that certification would occur not later than Thursday morning. With the next meeting of the Planning Group scheduled for Thursday night, we should have a 100% anti-Blackwater (pro-Potrero) panel set to take action.
Unfortunately, the biblical comparison ends here. Goliath was one giant, felled by a sling shot precisely placed between his eyes. Blackwater is more of a hydra, with new heads popping up every day in the strangest damned places. With billions of dollars of your tax payer dollars engorging its coffers, the company is far from finished in San Diego. After all, who cares if the neighbors say no? Blackwater will say, "This was all about politics, not about the truth. We'll wait to hear what the county supervisors say."
And why not? The fight only began tonight. Over the next year, Blackwater will use its considerable war chest to convince at least three of the five Republican supervisors in San Diego County to overrule the voters and approve its 824 acre mercenary training facility. We have our work cut out for us, but Carl Meyer said it best tonight: "The same recall mechanism works for county supervisors as for the Potrero planning group."
Blackwater wants desperately to open up shop in Potrero because they'd be only a few miles from the Mexican border. With its mercenaries facing indictment for the murder of seventeen Iraqi civilians in September, business overseas may soon decline. Here's Tuesday's New York Times:
"Mr. Strong (Blackwater's vice president for communications) said that the high-altitude blimp would be ideal for border surveillance operations or drug interdiction. He said the company wanted to win more Homeland Security contracts focused on border security training, and in choosing the location here, just eight miles from the border, Blackwater was banking on an increase in the number of border guards."
Blackwater's founder, Erik Prince, is one of the largest donors to right wing causes including the Republican Party. That's how he got so many no-bid contracts in Iraq. Undoubtedly, he plans the same strategy for domestic mercenary work.
Mr. Prince and his steroid-enhanced shooters never expected democracy in a small town to derail their merry ride to building a domestic private militia. Thanks to Carl Meyer and his stalwarts, Blackwater just hit a speed bump. Maybe now that it's safe, our elected officials will join Congressman Bob Filner and the people of Potrero in saying no to Blackwater.