Anyone who plays the card game Uno knows that the worst move another player can use on you is the dreaded "Draw Four" card.
It's aggravating for the one who has declared "Uno" and is licking his chops to get rid of the last card and win the round. But everyone understands that's part of the game and having to "draw four" is to be expected at perhaps the most inopportune time.
Imagine a player in your group who snivels that he never wins and demands to change the rules. Let's say that he pleads for the rules to be changed that allow him to play the Draw Four card while forbidding any other player from doing the same to him. That would give him special favor to win. I don't know anyone who would go for that in a game of chance where any player can win.
Everybody knows that Uno is a game of chance with little skill involved. Politics, on the other hand, is a game of skill and talent and experiences. So why would we be asked to change the rules so that special favor would be given to minority candidates?
That's precisely what the Latino Community Roundtable (LCR) is asking the city of Ceres to do: Change the rules so that minority candidates have an easier shot at winning. It's apparent that the Ceres City Council would not be considering the request if there was not the possibility that doing nothing could led to a legal challenge for which the city would spends gobs of money defending and then losing anyway.
In a nut shell, minority groups (other than LCR) have successfully challenged the at-large council districts in some California cities. "At-large" simply is a term that means any qualified candidate may run for a council seat as long as they reside anywhere within the city limits. Some minority groups say that's not fair, that the city should be split up into smaller districts wherein candidates must establish residency. They say that the at-large system of electing councilmembers is in violation of the California Voting Rights Act. Nobody has been able to explain to me how.
The California Voting Rights Act of 2001 (CVRA) expanded the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965, making it easier for minority groups in California to "prove" that their votes are being diluted in "at-large" elections. In 1986, the U.S. Supreme Court established conditions that must be met to prove that minorities are being disenfranchised but the state version eliminated one of these requirements. So unlike the federal Voting Rights Act, the CVRA does not require plaintiffs to demonstrate a specific geographic district where a minority is concentrated enough to establish a majority. This makes it easier for minority voters to sue local governments and eliminate at-large elections. The Act was signed into law in 2002 by Gray Davis, the failed governor who was later recalled.
The CVRA - authored by a Democrat in Richard Polanco - was tested in Modesto which fought district elections. In 2007 the state Supreme Court ruled the CVRA was constitutional in the court case, Sanchez v. City of Modesto. The city defended itself in the suit by saying that the CVRA was unconstitutional because it inherently favored minorities. The court said the CVRA was not racist.
It is obvious that the state and federal Voting Rights Acts are vastly different. The state law stacks things up against and is a shakedown of cities that wish to keep their at-large system. For example, the CVRA also requires the government to pay all legal and court fees for the plaintiff should the plaintiff win; this includes cases in which the government chooses to settle before a verdict is reached. By 2009, three cases had been successfully brought against local governments; all three resulted in the elimination of at-large elections (and the drawing of district lines). A total of $4.3 million has been paid to compensate attorney's fees.
In representing Modesto, attorney John McDermott claimed that the CVRA is a radical departure from the federal Voting Rights Act. He argued that at-large elections can be threatened under the law even if there is no proof that a minority group either suffered a disadvantage or would benefit from districts.
Which brings me to Ceres. Latino candidates have been elected in Ceres! The LCR is of the mindset that Hispanic candidates cannot get a fair shake. One would be hard-pressed to state that Ceres is biased against Hispanic candidates. (I might add here that Ceres has also elected several women to the City Council in Barbara Hinton, Delinda Moore and Lisa Mantarro Moore.) The people of Ceres elected Louis Arrollo, who is Hispanic, to two terms as mayor, the first dating back to 1987. When Anthony Cannella abandoned his council seat in 2005 to become mayor, the council appointed Guillermo Ochoa, a Latino businessman. Fending off challenges by white candidates in Mike Kline and Steve Breckenridge, Ochoa was re-elected in 2007.
Ceres also has had Hispanic members (Mike Welsh, Edgar Romo and Teresa Guerrero) on the Ceres Unified School District (CUSD) Board of Trustees before the district was coerced into creating trustee areas.
There is no evidence that going to district elections will benefit Latino candidates. Ceres has no Latinos on its City Council, not because of racial bias among voters but for lack of successful Latino candidates. Just because one runs is no guarantee that one wins. The success of a candidacy depends on a multitude of factors, including a candidate's voting record, platform, the size of the campaign fund, the effectiveness of a campaign, how well known a candidate is, and who they are running against.
Like our Uno game scenario, some apparently want an easier path of getting elected to the City Council. One of them is former Councilman Guillermo Ochoa, who is pressing for district elections. Ochoa said that he spent $6,000, $17,000 and $7,000 in three separate council elections and said districts would mean candidates would spend less money since they would not have to cover the entire city under a "by district" set-up.
The Ceres City Council, feeling the pressure to dismantle the current at-large system, has agreed to allow the Ceres voters to decide the matter in November 2015. But LCR may not be happy in the end. Here's why: The City Council must decide how the measure will be crafted. The council decides if voters will be asked to create "by district" City Council elections or a "for district" elections. The "by district" method would create four districts in which only voters in those areas may elect their own council member. The "from district" method calls for lines to be drawn and require candidates to live in their respective districts BUT be voted on by the entire Ceres population. LCR officials support the "by district" alternative. Mayor Chris Vierra is supportive of district elections but said by "makes sense" to go with "from districts."
Make no mistake, there is a huge difference. "From district" election essentially guts Ochoa's desire to run cheaper campaigns since a candidate still has to pay for election materials for more voters.
I feel it's prudent to allow the entire city to vote on each council district.
Changing the rules does not minimize the essential requirement that candidates must run a good game. Politics involves many things. Ochoa is not on the council today, in my opinion, because he didn't exhibit particularly impressive leadership qualities. In his failed 2011 re-election bid (falling short by 91 votes to victor Mike Kline) Ochoa pulled out his bag of sour grapes. He blamed his defeat on Latino opponent Daniel Padilla (a political unknown) siphoning 885 Latino votes from him by telling Hispanics that Ochoa was a Republican - a party that is unpopular with Latinos - while he, Padilla, was a Democrat. Ochoa said Latinos believed Padilla because "unfortunately Latinos are very gullible."
One of my biggest problems with "by district" elections is you could wind up with poorer quality councilmembers. Here's why. All council candidates now put their name in one hat. Let's say there are 10 candidates for three open seats. All the voters get to pick the best three out of the 10 from the hat. But let's imagine that now we have four hats. Let's say three candidates live and run in one district. Another two names are in hat #2. Two names are in hat #3. But one candidate, the worst of the entire lot, is the only name in hat #4. That candidate wins by default. The problem is everybody in town knows he is subpar. "If only we could have run against him," the others are thinking. "My name was in the wrong hat. I could have beat him."
I agree with Mayor Vierra, "from districts" are better. You want elected officials making citywide policy who are not accountable to all voters. And you wouldn't risk getting a councilman who is complacent in dealing with problems in one neighborhood when he/she represents another district.
But when it all boils down, this move to district elections is all part of a leftist agenda that preaches equal opportunities but in practice seeks equal outcomes. And it creates advocacy politics that stray from the notion of a color-blind society.
How do you feel? Let Jeff know by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.