What next for districting in Anaheim?


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If we’re to believe Jordan that he is “his own man” and does believe in some progressive reform, then we should be – at least occasionally – seeing the above three as a majority. Hmm…

The distant third-place finish of reformist Republican John Leos, and the first-place triumph of Jordan Brandman, leave Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait with only runner-up Lucille Kring as an obvious ally, and represent a setback to at least two of the three major reforms he’d wished to move forward with in the coming year.  It’s hard to see a guy – Brandman – who doesn’t seem to believe police brutality exists in the OC’s largest city (he’ll check with the chief, he says) backing any meaningful civilian review commission, just as it’s difficult to imagine such a close Pringle ally (in the spirit of optimistic goodwill, I’ll stop calling him a puppet for now) helping the Mayor to put “Let the People Vote” [on hotel subsidies] onto the ballot.  If these two reforms are going to happen it will have to be the result of a grassroots citizens movement, a Take Back Anaheim-point-Two.

But, if you will recall, Jordan DID make a promise to Los Amigos and Loretta Sanchez – a promise that’s on video – to settle the districting lawsuit, and move forward with the vital reform of bringing more democracy to Anaheim by dividing the huge town into districts and having each elect its own councilperson.  If Jordan’s videotaped promise means anything, then at least this is one track on which the city could make progress during Mayor Tait’s next two years.

(Note that I no longer call that lawsuit “the ACLU lawsuit,” and neither should you if you’re sympathetic to it.  The suit was initiated by three prominent Anaheim Latino activists who feel their community is being sidelined and disenfranchised by the current at-large system;  the ACLU is only assisting these three activists;  and those who oppose the suit like to frame it as an ACLU scheme because they know that organization is controversial and polarizing.  It’s the districting lawsuit.)

But … what DID Jordan actually say on this topic, and what did it mean?  It’s nice to be able to review Hoagy Holguin’s video here, and sift through all the young politician’s hemming and hawing, but you can see that eventually Dr. Moreno and Congresswoman Sanchez DID get him to pledge to agendize “settling the districting lawsuit” near the end of this clip:

So there you have it – new councilman Jordan Brandman, on video, promising that as one of his first acts he will not only back but AGENDIZE settling the districting lawsuit.  Will Jordan keep that promise?  That’s the first of many questions we will ask in this article.

The Pringle-Disney Delay Strategy

Der Pringle.

Pretty much everyone who’s studied the issue agrees that Anaheim is in violation of the California Voter Rights Act (CVRA), that resistance to this lawsuit is futile and wasteful, and that district elections are inevitable.  The idea also seems to be popular, as well as liberal and progressive.  So in early August Disney and the instatiable lobbyist/ex-mayor Curt Pringle, finger forever in the wind but fiercely protective of his permanent compliant Council majority, came up with a way to split the difference…

And thus, on the morning of August 8, Disney announced with great fanfare that district elections was a wonderful idea whose time had come, diversity democracy yada yada.  And that in order to really make it happen right, it should be studied at length by a duly constituted committee comprised of Anaheimers from all walks of life.  And Jordan was dispatched that evening to bring the message to the public, at the council meeting he references above.

And Pringle’s compliant council majority followed through with this exact plan that night – refusing to put the districting question on the November ballot but instead initiating a nearly two-year process of studying the issue with not one but TWO committees – a “Citizens Advisory Committee” AND a “Charter Review Commission.”  These should complete their work by JUNE OF 2014 – STILL a year and a half from now – in time to recommend WHETHER OR NOT the districting question should even be put before the voters in the June 2014 primary election.

Meanwhile they contracted the services of TWO law firms to FIGHT against this wonderful reform they speak so highly of – a fight that other cities’ experience has shown will be futile, and will certainly cost Anaheim taxpayers millions of dollars, but somehow is worth it to the Disney-Pringle council majority.

This keeps the permanent compliant Disney-Pringle majority (now with Brandman replacing termed-out Sidhu) in power for AT LEAST another two years (if not four or six.)  And it doesn’t leave much time at all – assuming both committees and voters approve districting in June 2014 – for Anaheim voters and possible candidates to come to grips with the new political landscape by that November.  This causes us to wonder, how much MORE corporate welfare is this majority planning to bleed from Anaheim in their remaining years, or, as Jason Young has asked, “How much more taxpayer money does Disney want?

But Jordan Brandman has promised to “settle the suit,” tout-suite.  We all just saw this on video.   Would “settling the suit” obviate – make unnecessary and pointless – this two-committee, two-year study process, and get the matter on the fast track for a June 2013 special election instead?

So Many Questions…

I’m afraid this article will have many more questions than answers, partly because the principals in this ongoing litigation are reticent about talking to a loose-lipped blogger.  But these questions are good to focus our minds, and will all be answered in due course:

Anaheim is a charter city, and changes to its charter – such as changes to the system of elections – must be approved by Anaheim voters.  And, although the ACLU has never lost one of these voting rights suits, it has never sued a charter city before.  But, could the court order district elections bypassing the voters?  Apparently not, I understand.

The latest news in the lawsuit, that I know of, is that the council (council majority that is) wants a “stay” on the whole suit, while they go through their two-year “study” process followed by a possible June 2014 special election.  Dr. Moreno seems comfortable letting this suit play itself out.  Is it possible the court will say no to the stay, and order the city to hold a special election in June 2013 instead?  (Best scenario, I think.)

Mayor Tait, who seems to be the only council member (besides the departing Lorri Galloway) to actually be enthusiastic about this reform, tried hard to get the districting question onto the high-turnout November 2012 election, because he is worried about it being easily defeated by big money in a lower-turnout June election.  Which brings up the $$$ question:  What does happen with the suit if Anaheim voters say NO to districting?

Former and new councilwoman Lucille Kring was a slow convert to the districting cause, but she was gradually convinced (as part of Tait’s courtship-pending-endorsement of her) that Anaheim is indeed in violation of the CRVA, and that resistance to the suit is futile.  But she stubbornly insists there should be no more than FOUR districts and FOUR councilpeople (along with an at-large mayor.)  Really, CAN she insist on that?

And what will we end up with – Mayor + 4, as Lucille wants?  Mayor + 6, as Tait proposed in August?  Mayor + 8, as activists like OCCORD insist is best?  How complicated will the special-election ballot be?

What I think is most important:

Presumptuously, as a white “outside agitator” from Huntington Beach who cares about strengthening democracy throughout Orange County, I propose the following:

1.  It’s highly desirable, but SECONDARY, for there to be more Councilpeople of Latin and other races;  candidates and voters of Latin and other races should step forward;  and they probably will when they feel it’s not a waste of effort.

2.  It’s highly desirable, but SECONDARY, for there to be more Councilpeople who come from other neighborhoods than the wealthy Hills and the Colony and know what the issues are there;  candidates and voters from those neighborhoods should step forward;  and they probably will when they feel it’s not a waste of effort.

3.  What’s most important, and will make those other two things possible, is for it to COST SIX OR EIGHT TIMES LESS to run for Council, so that a regular guy or girl can manage to make it without the backing of Anaheim’s corporate interests, or the unions, or vast personal wealth.   Generally it has cost the average Anaheim councilperson $200,000 to fight his or her way into office.  (This year we saw two off-the-charts outliers – Jordan floating in on $400,000 of corporate money, and Lucille managing to come in second with not much but name recognition, endorsements and shoe leather.)

No person of average means can manage $200,000 to run for council without kissing serious corporate ass.  But divide the town into eight districts, and the cost comes down to $25,000 – doable for an honest person with friends who believe in them!  Not only that, forget about the money – if 140,000 registered Anaheim voters are divided in eight, that makes 17,500 voters, and it’s just possible to knock on their doors and meet them if you start early enough.  (Imagine that, Lucille – only 1/8 of all those dog bites you got!)

And then – voila – Anaheim gets policy made for the majority of its citizens, NOT at the beck and call of the largest corporations and/or the unions!

Which brings up one last question or problem:  If the “districting” we’re talking about is, as some seem to prefer, what they have in Santa Ana – where each district or “ward” gets its own candidates but they then have to run citywide – then everything glowing I just portrayed disappears.  Let’s NOT do it Santa Ana style.

Districting and its Discontents

This might all be academic if Anaheim is ruled in violation of the CVRA, but there are people who feel strenuously, for various more and less compelling reasons, that this district elections reform sucks, that it will divide the city into hostile fiefdoms, and that it will rob each voter of his God-given right to vote for a slate full of councilpeople.   Orange Juice fan “Laundromat Viewer” has created HandsOffOurVotingRights.Com, a compendium of those grievances, and resources and companionship for those who wish to fight districting.  I assume Laundromat Viewer will be voting nay, when the question comes to the ballot.

In general agreement with Laundromat Viewer, but stoically resigned to the unwinnability of the suit and the inevitability of districting, is our friend Cynthia Ward.  She and many others look at the cost of running for office decreasing eight-fold and see the opposite of what I see – where I see the average person having an eight times better chance of competing with Disney, they say “No, it’ll just be eight times easier for Disney to buy eight councilmembers.”

Huh?

Disney and its allies dropped $400K on Jordan Brandman without blinking an eye.  That is nothing to them.  So is $50 K – also nothing to them.  Things don’t change for the big players, for the Goliaths.  But the Davids would have a chance finally.  I don’t see how this is not self-evident.

Cynthia, a fine writer and honest conservative, betrays some of the elitism native to her ideology when she attempts to flesh out her worries, her worries of how lower-class, “blue-collar” candidates are likely to be more susceptible to corporatist blandishments than are those “to the manor born” :

Council Districts will do nothing to help disenfranchised neighborhoods launch their candidates, because the special interests that already control Anaheim will simply blanket those smaller Districts in mail and drown out the efforts of some poor schmuck who thought he could cover the ‘hood in photocopied handouts with volunteers.

If you think the establishment crowd cannot game this, think again. They will find a local in a District they need to control, someone stepping up with leadership qualities that locals clearly respect and follow. They will groom him/her. Invite them to sit at a Chamber table for a few luncheons, The Mouse scores them seats for Candlelight (or invites them to serve on the SOAR Advisory Board) someone has last minute tickets for the City’s box at the Honda Center, etc. This little blue collar worker has never had that level of attention in their life, and with very little time and investment they have someone dazzled at being part of the “in” crowd.

Been there, done that, and am sadly watching others I care about being seduced with the same exact courtship. And when those who have been so good to you explain how this project is really great for the City, well you listen, because you trust them. Districts will not change that. It will just give us more leaders to influence.

Really.  Because they’re “blue collar” and live in a “hood” they’re more corruptible and naive than a candidate “of means,” one with breeding and schooling who comes from the right quarter.  We all just have to depend on the noblesse oblige of the rare Tait or Galloway.  I don’t think so.

And then these doubters kvetch that each district will become its own little fiefdom, each councilperson only caring about their own district and horse-trading with each other for a park here, a park there.  Seriously, nothing will ever be perfect, and all politicians need to be kept on a short leash, but does this really seem worse, and not a whole lot better, than what we have now?

A Word to the Whites from Dr. José Moreno

A lot of us get tired of race being injected into this, but the way the law is written, the California Voting Rights Act, required the lawsuit to be framed in racial terms.  The districting reform, however, is about a lot more than just race.

Dr. Moreno, one of the initiators of the suit, was telling me the other day that white people really should take a second look at districting if they think it’s meant only to give a leg up to Latinos and other minorities.  They need to look at it bearing in mind that within a decade WHITE PEOPLE will be a minority in Anaheim too, and districting may very well be what helps them keep a few WHITE folks in office and the town not turn into another Santa Ana.  (This is my paraphrase of the good doctor.)

He points to the last election as yet another demonstration that the white majority won’t elect a Latino candidate;  I think there were reasons that Leos didn’t make it, and VERY good reasons that “Chavez Lodge” didn’t, and nobody can even remember the name of the Latina that ran.  But we both agree that all people need to start looking beyond race and consider whether that candidate’s positions (and character) work for you or not.  Ironically, Latinos may very well see that their best candidate is the bold progressive activist Duane Roberts from West Anaheim;  while fearful racist whites (I mean, those whites who ARE fearful and racist) might choose the half-Latino law-and-order corporatist Steven Albert “CHAVEZ” Lodge!

The Best Outcome

It would be nice to see Jordan Brandman keep his promise and show himself to be more his own man, less a Pringle puppet, than many of us suspect him of being.  But whether or not he keeps his word, the special election to choose districting should be held early THIS year – 2013 – so there’s plenty of time to implement the new districts. And it’ll be up to us small-d democratic activists to make sure it passes.

And WHILE WE’RE AT IT – Take Back Anaheim should be resurrected for the New Year, and launch a petition drive to put two more questions on that ballot:  last year’s “Let the People Vote” on corporate subsidies, and Mayor Tait’s proposed civilian police review commission.

And all this can be done with Mayor Tait’s encouragement from his bully pulpit, the tireless organizing skills of plenty-of-time-on-her-hands-now Galloway, and using the sorely-needed cash of the prodigal OCEA.

AND they should hire not only Tea-Party firebrand Tim Whitacre again, but the brilliant campaign manager who helped push Sharon Quirk-Silva (and probably, ironically, Jordan Brandman) over the edge in the Anaheim flatlands last month – Jason Mills!

[Update:  Just as I wrapped this up, I heard from an insider who is much more pessimistic about ANYTHING positive happening in the next four-six years.  This source fears that the court will give great leeway to the stalling tactics of the council majority, and THOSE are looking like they could be drawn out WELL past 2014.  I'll let my optimistic article stand though, because we all need a little hope...]


About Vern Nelson

Greatest pianist in Orange County. Performs regularly with his savage-jazz quintet The Vern Nelson Problem, and at regular concerts at the Huntington Beach Central Library.