I apologize but some of this is going to be a repeat of a column I wrote a year ago. I feel it's important since the Latino Community Roundtable recently pressed the Ceres City Council for an update on the status of so-called district elections.
There's an old axiom that says, "If ain't broke, don't fix it." It most certainly applies to the call for district City Council elections in Ceres.
Let me share some observations about what I consider to be the racially divisive nature of the call for district elections made by the LCR.
First, let's review. Most people who aren't "into" politics knows that anyone may run for City Council in Ceres as long as they are a resident of Ceres, a registered voter and not a felon. You get your 20 or so signatures of registered voters and you have the opportunity to run. It's one of our constitutional freedoms we're guaranteed.
Not all who run for office are guaranteed a win, of course. How much effort one wants to spend on a campaign to get elected is up to the candidate. There are, of course, a variety of factors that play into getting elected. Being well-known or well-liked is a must. You should have a record of community service or accomplishment. You must have a good organization and message. You must knock on doors. It's like anything; you can run hard or try to do things the passive way. Any candidate missing credentials can expect to lose. Those who don't "pay their dues," such as serve on a Planning Commission, or wear out shoe leather will have a tough time mustering enough votes to win. Also, if a candidate offers no solutions to problems facing Ceres, don't expect to gain any traction among the voters.
Aside from the fact that district elections certainly won't guarantee any particular ethnic background of a candidate on the council, I'm very perplexed by members of LCR who expect Latinos to be on the council. Rather than call for a change in the way Ceres elects its City Council, the LCR should concentrate on recruiting and supporting good candidates. After all, one must run before one can win and I don't recall many Latinos even trying to run for office in Ceres. I'm really not sure why Latinos have failed to run given that Ceres has elected Latinos and women to the City Council and Ceres School Board in the past.
But now the LCR wants to change the way Ceres elects its council. They want Ceres split up into smaller voter boundaries, or council districts, with the belief that this will give minority candidates a better shot at getting elected. I am not quite sure if minorities would have any advantage under the new system. If I understand former councilman Guillermo Ochoa correctly, he feels this is a better method since it makes it easier for a candidate to run. It also costs less money, he aptly points out.
Maybe so. But the nagging question is this: If somebody is itching to put forth less effort to get elected to office, how well suited would such a less aggressive candidate be? Do we get better qualified candidates this way or less qualified? I would hope any candidate could have enough ambition and energy to raise the money required. How much homework would the "lazier" councilman do? How deep would they delve into issues? How many questions would they ask? Would they be content to let city staff run the show?
Consider this drawback to district elections. In 2011, Ceres had 18,154 registered voters. Only 3,327, or 18.33 percent, even voted in the city election. If you split Ceres into four council districts - the mayor would continue being at large - each district would be comprised of approximately 831 voters who vote. If you had two people running, you could have a councilman elected by 418 voters. If there are three candidates, you could have a winner by 278 voters, to sit on a council that governs 48,000 residents. Does something seem askew about this?
I can't help but bristle when minority groups insist that they need a representative of the same ethnicity to represent them. Our colorblind government is set up in a way that our elected officials represent all of us. Any Ceres resident may pick up the phone and call Mayor Chris Vierra, or Vice Mayor Bret Durossette or Councilman Ken Lane, or Councilman Linda Ryno or Councilman Mike Kline - yes they all happen to not be Latino, so what? - to speak about the need for stop signs or speed controls or concerns with graffiti or loose dogs or municipal code violations. Their job is to listen to any resident. If they don't they need to be voted out of office. But where did this notion come that a Latino resident can only be represented by a Latino council member?
Last year the LCR was unable to lay down their arguments in a consistent order. In one moment, Maggie Mejia suggested that the LCR is not interested in suing Ceres to bring about district elections, making some altruistic concern about Ceres risking "millions and millions" in tax dollars defending at-large elections in court. "We want to help you, we want to protect you," Mejia said innocently. Seconds later, Ochoa gets up to interject inflammatory liberal drivel when he suggested that Latinos prefer to take their problems to Latinos, offering that Latinos "would like to have someone else up here again." (I presume he means himself.) I'm not sure how to interpret this comment since he also said that "Latinos are gullible" when he lost his re-election.
He presumptively spoke on behalf of Indians in Ceres, saying the "healthy community of the Indian population ... would like to have someone here representing them, understanding them." Really? If Indians really wanted their own on the council, why haven't any candidates sprung forth from that ethnicity?
Ochoa cited a recent instance in which a Latino businessman wasn't communicate well with the city until he, the former councilman, jumped into the fray. Ochoa said the poor communication wasn't due to the language barrier (yeah, right), but "because ... of the ethnicity, the culture. You feel more comfortable speaking to someone who you think they understand you."
That is so wrong in so many aspects. That someone would suggest that an official would not be approached because he is not Latino seems blatantly offensive in concept. There is nothing about color of skin that suggests we have a different human experience as far as understanding common city problems, such as barking dogs, concern about speeding cars, code violations or blight. I suggest we just lay off this "us" and "them" view and realize that we are all Americans. It shouldn't be "Latino this" or "white that." We are a common people for whom Martin Luther King wanted us to judge the content of our character and not the outward appearance. If a Latino does not feel comfortable talking to an elected councilman because he happens to be white, I question their maturity as citizens of this great nation.
Also last year Ochoa made a less-than-truthful statement to the council, stating that Teresa Guerrero "didn't win the first time she got out there," meaning her running for a seat on the Ceres School Board when there were at-large elections. Mr. Ochoa failed to do his homework. In 2005 Guerrero ran and won by defeating two incumbents in Corinne Jones and Eileen Wyatt. Guerrero even collected more votes than did Bill Berryhill - and the Berryhills have been a strong Ceres name in Ceres for decades. Her 2005 election was won before CUSD went to district elections! The reason Guerrero lost her re-election bid in 2009, in my opinion, was due to public backlash when she violated CUSD policy of naming schools after local people by picking the over-memorialized name of Cesar Chavez to name the new junior high. In time the public became more forgiving and elected her in 2011.
What a politically correct world we live in. Get ready for the city to be forced spending thousands on a consultant to delve into this matter out of fear of a lawsuit costing millions to defend whether or not Ceres has "racially polarized voting." LCR has the cart before the horse. They should be spending their time recruiting electable candidates rather than pressuring the city to spend money that could best be spent on firefighting apparatus or police protection.
Bring on the ethnic candidates and let the best man (or woman) win. If and only if they cannot get elected in Ceres - which I know to be full of fair-minded people - then burn down the house and press on with the California Voting Rights Act.
How do you feel? Let Jeff know at firstname.lastname@example.org.