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The Executive Board of the Democratic Party of Orange County (DPOC), by an almost unanimous vote, has recommended that the DPOC Central Committee approve a strong resolution calling for the City of Anaheim to create eight Council districts, in addition to a Mayor elected at large, in time for elections by district in the 2014 general election. The Democratic Party’s Central Committee will vote on the resolution at its March 25 meeting at 7:00 in the Carptenter’s Union Hall in Orange.
[Disclosure: I am a member of the DPOC E-Board and I both sponsored and drafted portions of this resolution, though here I speak solely for myself. While obviously "conflicted" in this matter, I am trying to report these results of our meeting as objectively as I can. I refer to the resolution as "strong" not to claim that it as an example of powerful leadership or courageous action, but because the reforms that it calls for are themselves strong ones -- though readers can judge for themselves.]
In addition to sponsoring the measure, I was one of those most responsible for a tactical decision that led to some controversy (and probably to some dissent in the final vote): the decision not to bring our county’s elected Democratic leaders into the process of drafting the resolution. Proponents of the bill wanted to produce a statement calling for what we believed to be right and just, without worrying about the political compromises that may (but hopefully will not) be required to resolve the issue. Elected officials, by contrast, have to be attentive to those concern. Speaking for myself, I did not want to face what might have been requests from electeds — and yes, that is a real word — to water down the resolution in any way, including our call on them to support this cause.
Several people have presented the opinion that this tactical choice was a mistake — that we should have given our elected Democrats the opportunity to stand with such a strong statement from the outset (and, not incidentally, just to give them more of a head’s-up as to what we were doing.) In retrospect, I think that they were probably right: I sold our electeds short by not seeking earlier input — for which I owe and offer them an apology.
Fortunately, our elected officials will have the opportunity to offer their opinions and any requests for adjustments in language over the next two weeks and at the March 25 meeting itself. While I hope that our Democratic electeds will agree with this language in full, I recognize that they have a different role in the process than the party itself: the opportunity to use what we call their “good offices” to help facilitate a final agreement.
The Democratic Party, by contrast, is (in many of our opinions) designed to give voice to the grassroots of our communities — especially to people who have been excluded from political power and that have suffered materially as a result, such as the residents of West and much of Central Anaheim. We have not always done so, nationally and locally. We’ve generally expressed good intentions — but not always the urgency that affected groups feel about these basic issues of political representation. This time, I believe, we’re getting it right.
It’s a point of continual frustration for me that people argue that there is “no real difference between the major political parties.” (To the extent that’s true on this issue, it’s because many Republicans and unaffiliated voters have taken admirable positions — and, especially in the case of Anaheim’s Mayor Tom Tait, apparently suffered for doing so.) But I would love for there to be no real difference between the major political parties here. So let me (speaking only for myself) offer a challenge to my friends from across the political aisle: the OC GOP can adopt this same resolution, changing the word “Democratic” to “Republican” as appropriate, at roughly the same time we do.
The county Republican Party can — as I hope and expect that the DPOC will do on March 25 — stand with the beleaguered people of the less wealthy and less well-served areas of Anaheim; they can encourage their own electeds to resolve the conflict within the city by putting the matter to the voters as early as this fall. While Democrats may gain some partisan advantage if they don’t do so, I’d happily sacrifice that benefit to see both major parties, non-aligned and other-aligned voters, and ideally the major corporate interests in Anaheim as well, united in taking a situation that should be considered intolerable and making it right.
I’m proud that the leaders of Orange County’s Democratic Party has recommended that its full membership support the resolution below. I’ll be interested in hearing what others here have to say about it.
Adoption of District Elections in Anaheim
WHEREAS Anaheim, with about 350,000 residents, is California’s largest city that elects its Council members at-large; many smaller cities have already adopted district elections; and Anaheim’s ratio of 67,235 residents per elected Council member is much higher than the four next largest and next smallest cities, whose average ratio is 44,467 residents per council member; and
WHEREAS Anaheim has a history of racially/ethnically polarized voting – a distinct group of Latino voters (almost a third of all voters) consistently votes for different candidates than the majority, cannot elect even a single City Council member of their choice, and the 125,000-person region of “West Anaheim,” with a Latino majority, has not had a resident elected to the City Council since 1998; and
WHEREAS the Anaheim City Council’s lack of minority representation has contributed to disproportionate distribution of city assets – park space, public libraries, community centers, and more – to areas outside of Latino-majority “West and Central Anaheim”; and its serving the majority has come at the cost of substantial detriment to its minority residents; therefore
BE IT RESOLVED that the Democratic Party of Orange County urges that (1) Anaheim adopt eight single-member Council districts, each initially representing approximately 44,000 residents, plus a Mayor elected at-large citywide; (2) these districts be drawn by an independent panel of retired judges, for more equitable and direct representation; (3) City Council candidates be required to have resided in their district (made it their actual, primary, and voting residence) for at least six months before their election and during their entire tenure in that office; (4) election of a district’s Council member be limited to voters registered at addresses therein; (5) the Anaheim City Council place a districting proposal on the ballot in time for districts to be finalized and then Council members elected by district during the 2014 general election (rather than let another City Council election violate the California Voting Rights Act and Latino voters’ civil rights); and (6) Anaheim City Council members and Orange County Democratic elected officials support this resolution publicly and in writing.