Regarding at large local elections versus district elections
The state Supreme Court recently denied review of a ruling that requires charter cities to switch to district elections based on majority-minority representation (Ruling backs district elections for cities.” San Francisco Chronicle, August 2014). Advocates say that having district elections are a solution to incorporating more voters in areas with a history racially polarized voting. Many cities ended-up doing away with at-large elections because of the threat of costly lawsuits.
This trend has begun to spill into Orange County, with Anaheim being the latest example of a city taking up the issue where residents will decide in November if council elections should be by district (“Anaheim voter to decide if council elections should be by district.” Daily Pilot, January 2014).
It’s important that voters feel engaged in the political process, but these recent efforts to bring district elections to cities with at-large seats seem to be motivated by politics rather than promoting civic engagement. If one looks at the group’s pushing these measures, they tend to be comprised of union leaders and organizers that have been unsuccessful in electing voices that advocate their agenda. Because they can’t win at the voting booth, advocacy groups take up their cause and argue before sympathetic judges who rule in their favor.
This leads to the introduction of big-city style ward politics to local neighborhoods where special interests become king makers in selecting candidates to represent these narrowly drawn districts that define a city’s overall agenda.
Advocates for district elections contend that individuals who share an ethnic/racial connection with their community are best suited to understand the needs of that community. This belief that a district is entitled to a representative based solely on the color of their skin is fraught with dangers.
If one group is to elect a representative in an area where their proportion is high, what about in areas in which it’s low? In California’s 43rd congressional district, Spanish speaking voters make up a majority of the population, but are represented by Maxine Waters who is black. Is Waters not qualified to represent her district because she does not have the same skin color of the majority ethnic group in her district? Regardless of the examples, this can be an alarming approach to take in electing our representatives.
Throughout my time in public service, I have heard from residents who don’t necessarily want representatives that look like them, but rather want representatives that will listen to their concerns.
As a member of the Assembly, I’ve represented our district on a range of issues that went beyond the challenges I faced while serving as Mayor of Costa Mesa. I have been able to work with local leaders from all backgrounds on substantive issues that have included introducing legislation that addresses quality of life concerns and advocating against the misuse of public funds for toll lanes. By being open and engaged with all residents, elected officials are able to represent the needs of any community.
It’s too early to tell what Anaheim residents will decide in how they elect their council, but fragmenting voters within districts results in communities being entrenched in city politics and cronyism while excluding qualified candidates who can best address the needs of any community based on sound ideas regardless of their race.
Assemblyman ALLAN MANSOOR represents Orange County’s 74th Assembly District and is a candidate for the Orange County Board of Supervisors.