Gary Horton: Rage against the machine


Dear Scott Wilk,

I knew Buck McKeon. He was a friend of mine. Scott, you’re no Buck McKeon … yet. And Scott, despite the sultry attraction of power, I hope for your good and ours you never get there.



Way, way back, Buck started up earnestly. Business leader. School board president. Mayor. Congressman. Local man made good and did good by the community.

I met and worked with Buck more than a few times. Impressive it was, how adroitly Buck made friends and influenced people. He had great people skills and he used them to influence affairs to great impact, both for good … and for bad.

Along the way came an accumulation of power and connections that both empowered and corrupted Buck’s conduct. Favored loans, favors to friends, wife on payroll and an attempted thrust to place Mrs. McKeon into the state Assembly.

And much more, behind congressional scenes, bending and awarding giant deals. Today, there’s much more, with Buck operating as highly paid lobbyist levering influence accumulated on our tax dollars, making deals for more of our tax dollars.

That’s our machine politics at work. That’s how things are in today’s sad Washington ways.

It seems accumulated political power must corrupt our system. Democracy is unstable, and given sufficient accumulated power, freedom entropies into undue personal influence, dulling and then thwarting open discourse and the free will of the people.

Politicians become power centers evolving into machines. Sufficiently strong, machine politics bend democracy as the power of the machine overwhelms the power of the people.

We’ve got to rage against these machines. We must rage in favor of clear and open choice. To suffer machine government is to suffer diminished democracy.

I’m not overstepping.

Scott Wilk, as Buck McKeon before him, has already successfully placed a City Council member and influenced other local positions. His wife has scored a cherry spot on the Santa Clarita Arts Commission. We’re witnessing the birth of a true “Wilk Machine” in infancy, with the capacity to grow substantially more powerful if left unchecked.

What could possibly go wrong with a power broker lording it over a small city?

Corruption at the nearby city of Bell might be one good example. Small town gone bad, ending with half the leadership behind bars. Toss in Stockton or Oxnard, or a dozen other small California cities gone sideways with cronyized and nepotized government. These guys likely didn’t intend to downward spiral. It’s the entropy of cronyism that powers these things.

But why stop with such small-time examples. We can go large, too.

Turkey just essentially lost its democracy in the power play of once fairly elected President Recep Erdoğan. Venezuela lost its way to Hugo Chavez.

A newly democratic Russia quickly reverted back to dictatorship in Vladimir Putin. All first built a democratically elected power base, and all then abused that to consolidate and abuse power for personal gain.

We won’t likely ever see Donald Trump as emperor. Yet, with great haste, this president positions his own daughter and son-in-law into positions of highest influence in the land.

You and I have no say, but there those kids are on battlefields and red carpets, just like the royal families in banana republics and Gulf State kingdoms. Quid pro quo, nepotism, and cronyism are the operating hallmarks in Trumpland. Trump has perfected them more quickly than any other politician before.

Conversely, we’ve seen Hillary abuse every possible lever and favor at her grasp to manipulate the democratic nomination process. Hillary might have been the only person who could have delivered us Trump.

All can agree we’ve all been discouraged by breaches in our democratic process by nepotism and cronyism. Resolute raging against machine politics seems our only protection – at every level, from local to national, and even international, given any influence.

But this column isn’t about these fantastic, overwhelming abuses of power. We’re back here in small town Santa Clarita, with a small-town government and a well-regarded state Senator Scott Wilk found swinging an oversized bat back home in our local affairs.

Left unchecked, we might see another Buck-sized machine. Left unchecked, we’ll see city and county politics bent away from unfettered local choice to selection and election by unseen edict.

Operating at its finest, our local politics must be about merit above connection. Not “Who’s got the money to swing the vote.” Not “Who knows who, and getting favors returned.” We’ve already seen experienced, capable local candidate after candidate overlooked, or overspent, in favor of the connected and plugged in.

Scott Wilk is a fine leader and he’s a strong representative of our community, currently employed at the state level. For the benefit of our community, that’s where Scott’s influence should stay – at the state level – and outside of meddling in local affairs.

Let us govern locally by merit and not by connection.

Let’s rage against the machines.

Gary Horton is a Santa Clarita resident. “Full Speed to Port!” appears Wednesdays in The Signal.



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