Filler Sunset Years

Maybe It's Just Our Time To Sicken And Die.
By Jeff Smith

DROP YOUR GUNS or the nigger gets it. I don't think my children ever will forget this pivotal moment in American cinema, when the citizens of Rockridge--a truculent mob made murderous by an unpopular political appointment--threaten to kill the newly-arrived sheriff (played by the late Cleavon Little). I know I won't. Nor will I forget Little's impassioned plea in falsetto counterpoint to the ominous basso profundo threat.

Do what he say. He mean it.

Smith Students of film will recognize the scene from Blazing Saddles. They will recall that the bucolic, bovine mob dropped its guns, even though it was Little's character holding his own gun to his own head, and playing both parts of the unfolding hostage situation. Dumb and dumber.

But no dumber than the voters of Oro Valley and Marana. Last Tuesday they pulled the same stunt on the tax man, the real estate hustler...and themselves. Substitute the voters for the nigger who's about to get it, the tax man and the land scammers for the surly mob, and ballot issues for bonds and school budget overrides for the gun, and you've got the picture.

Only this time time the mob wasn't bluffed and the fool blew his brains out.

In non-metaphoric (but nonetheless surrealistic) terms, what happened is this: Marana voters defeated a school budget override of a mere 3 percent, which would have cost the average homeowner a measley $34 a year; while Oro Valley turned down bonds that would have preserved the last, best chunk of Mother Nature within its urban-sprawling boundaries and built a few parks and pathways--the sort of stuff they traditionally beg for, but which in this season of scary tax assessments they are eager to dump in favor of about a hundred bucks a year per household, which will disappear into beer and Big Macs and do nobody a lick of good.

The overwhelming evidence, both circumstantial and anecdotal, is that the bonds and budget override were defeated by voter panic over the previous week's news that Pima County property valuations are going up an average 25 percent in Oro Valley, and similar amounts in Marana. While it is true, as I pointed out last week, that higher valuations don't guarantee higher taxes--the county supervisors could lower tax rates to keep the actual dollar amounts the same--voters fear and loathe any hint of higher taxes. With the Cold War over and the Russian bear de-clawed, taxes are the communism of the '90s.

But to blow the opportunity to prepare your kids for a new, higher-tech workplace (Marana), or to leave Honeybee Canyon to the not-so-tender mercies of real estate developers (Oro Valley), in protest of property taxes that haven't even been established yet, is stupidity of a magnitude beyond Blazing Saddles.

You can say all you want about senior citizens living scared on their limited Social Security. I've said a thing or two about that, and about how they tend not to give a rat's ass about kids and education once their own are grown, graduated and gone. But look south to Santa Cruz County. We in the Sonoita/Patagonia/Elgin district had our own school budget override to consider last Tuesday too. And frankly, the Patagonia High School that serves this area is neither wildly popular nor respected. And we've got lots of retired, limited-income old farts around here. And a higher-than-average percentage of limited- and low-income young farts.

But we turned out in better numbers and passed our school budget override. Perhaps in part because we didn't get the same kind of shock from our county assessor's office the week previous that Pima County voters received from Rick Lyons.

Good for us, bad for you, but in neither instance a very stirring salute to the spirit of the American citizen/voter. We have become materialistic, money/obsessed and tax-phobic to a degree that is self-destructive. We cannot see beyond this year's net, after-tax income to next year's quality of life, our children's and their children's opportunity to work at meaningful jobs and earn an adequate living in an increasingly complex and competitive world market.

We are behaving like a nation in decline--cheap, querulous and suspicious of government. Which, when you stop to realize that we elect our government and therefore are our government, amounts to paranoid self-loathing and ultimately self-destruction.

But what the hell--if you read even a little bit of history you have to recognize that nations, governments, cultures don't last forever. Each has its life-span with youth, maturity and decline. Maybe it's just our time to sicken and die.

Is this what we want? Is the die cast, or do we have some degree of free will? I'd like to believe the latter and keep this ride going...not only for the next 50 years I plan to hang here, but for Liza and Caleb and whatever gleams they may have in their eyes.

Oh, and about last week's promise of more on the subject of death and taxes: stay tuned. This week's sermon is, after all, contiguous if not concentric. TW

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