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The Politics of Decision-Making

Some worried admirers of progressive San Diego Councilwoman Donna Frye's populist approach to politics are questioning two of her recent votes. She opposed the ban on big box stores in the city of San Diego, and two weeks ago she voted against the friends of the court brief endorsing same-sex marriage. (She later voted for it.)

Then, in the September 12th edition of San Diego CityBeat, political scientist Carl Luna speculated that Ms. Frye's untypical votes represent a political dilemma between representative democracy and direct democracy:

How should elected representatives vote: as their conscience tells them to vote, or as their constituents tell them to vote? - Carl Luna

So I asked Councilwoman Frye about what motivated her vote against banning big box stores . She said that she was concerned that the issue would become a ballot measure which would become the focus of the upcoming elections and would take attention away from important issues. And yes, she was listening to those people who called her, many of whom were confused, thinking that a ban would shut down all Walmart stores. But I gathered from her answers to my questions that she made the choice based on her analysis of the situation, and not on polling her constituents. If the issue had made it to the ballot, with the decision left to the voters, direct democracy would have been at work. In this case, it wasn't.

Then I questioned her about her first vote on the council resolution to support same-sex marriage . Her vote was no which surprised just about everyone, since she has made it clear that she does support same-sex marriage.

She also was surprised, she said, when she received the docket item Wednesday before Labor Day, and when it came before Council, each side was given 15 minutes: 'Let's get it done before lunch.'

She explained, I asked for the public to have an opportunity to learn about the issue. I'd never seen an item of this significance given such a short hearing. I couldn't believe it. No hearings. No opportunity to express points of view on something of importance. I asked for a continuance.

When the continuance was not granted -- and Ms. Frye believes this was because Scott Peters was going to Scotland and the amicus brief wouldn't have his vote -- she voted no.


In brief, it seems that Councilwoman Frye continues her insistence that although the public should have the opportunity to be heard, the decisions are hers.