Has Gail Eastman Figured Out That a Real Districting Plan is Her Best Hope?

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Eastman with lightbulb over her head

Is a possible reconsideration of last week’s vote on districting a signal that Gail Eastman has figured out that the Pringlish consider it reasonable to sacrifice her and her political career in order to get two more years of unalloyed power?

Yesterday’s Voice of OC‘s story on today’s (Tuesday’s) Anaheim City Council meeting is both a great introduction to the controversy (for those who haven’t been following it) and a must-read for those who have been, because it raises the prospect that Gail Eastman will bring up a vote to put district elections on the ballot.

(Here, we’ll link to that story again — because the VOC’s RSS feed is broken for those of us who use Google Chrome, as everyone who doesn’t use Firefox ought to do.  This is what comes up on our RSS feed, Voice guys: RSS Error: This XML document is invalid, likely due to invalid characters. XML error: Mismatched tag at line 310, column 45.”  Now fix it.  We love you, but we’re willing to embarrass you to get back our feed.)

The article leave only one thing out: why might Gail Eastman, who (unlike Lucille Kring) never made a commitment to voters to put district elections onto the ballot, suddenly join a coalition of a triumphant Tait and a caught-in-a-trap Brandman to put district on the ballot after all?  Well, they do suggest that it may be for duplicitous reasons, to hope that with two plans on the ballot neither one of them gets a majority — and that sort of political chicanery is a possibility.

The only things arguing against her being motivated by such political chicanery are that (1) Judge Franz Miller still has the ACLU case, (2) that case is still sound, (3) it’s clear that the “Santa Ana Plan” would not be appropriate relief, and (4) that means that the Anaheim  Council is looking at the prospect of a more dramatic change being imposed on them that one that they could fashion themselves.

As I suggested in my article last week, the more straightforward reason that might motivate Eastman to support a “reverse Santa Ana plan” (which I called “Ana Atnas” — a term that in the past week has taken the world  by storm, if it is pronounced “Wendy Davis”) is pure old-fashioned enlightened self-interest.  I’ll reiterate and expand on that argument here.

Here’s what I and others think is really going on in Anaheim.

  1. They know that they’re going to have districts and those districts won’t be Santa Ana style.
  2. They don’t want those districts to be in effect for the November 2014 elections, so that they can have two more years without it.
  3. During those two years, they intend to do who-knows-what, but whatever it is it is likely to be aided by the highly stacked “Charter Review Commission,” the proposal of which they hope to have on the November ballot as well.
  4. They recognize that a court will probably throw out such a proposal because it does not satisfy the legitimate demands of the ACLU suit, but so long as that doesn’t lead to districts before 2016 that sort of partial victory is OK.

Now, this is not a problem for Kris Murray, because she lives in Anaheim Hills.  It’s not a problem for Jordan Brandman, because he lives in a Democratic area and in ways not involving Disney can still convince many voters that he is a Democrat.  It’s a problem for Lucille Kring, on the south side, but either she doesn’t seem to get it or she truly has decided to run against Tom Tait for Mayor.

It’s a huge problem for Eastman, though.  If districts go through — especially if imposed on an expedited schedule by a not-willing-to mess-around court — then she’ll be running against her neighbor Brandman, to whom she will surely lose.  Her best shot of retaining a political future is to see a plan enacted that requires votes to take plan on a district-by-district basis, but to allow candidates from anywhere in the city to run in the district of their choice.  That way, she could find the conservative district that she needs.

Here’s what ought to happen, from Eastman’s perspective.  Put two “charter revision” questions on the ballot.  The first would ask whether candidates should be elected by districts: a voter residency requirement.  The second should ask whether candidates on the ballot from a given district must reside there: a candidate residency requirement.

Right now, Anaheim has neither.  The ACLU wants Anaheim to have both.  If the choice is one or the other, then Anaheim will lose.

The Pringlish want candidate residency but not voter residency: the “Santa Ana plan” obviously designed to keep Anaheim Hills in power.  This won’t fly in court.

I don’t know that the Ana Atnas / reverse Santa Ana plan is my first choice — but if it comes down to a choice between this and what the ACLU has demanded, it should certainly be Eastman’s preference.  It’s the only way that she has a political future once the court steps in — something of greater concern to her than to Murray, Brandman, Kring … or Pringle.

If she’s canny, she’ll ask that the two questions, voter residency and candidate residency, be placed on the ballot individually.  And then she’ll make sure that Santa Ana’s approach loses on both of them.

Here’s the relevant section of the Voice article:

Supporters of district elections also speculated that adding both options to the ballot would not only split the vote but also prolong the lawsuit. A Superior Court judge has set a July 9 hearing to decide whether the city’s legislative process succeeded in addressing the issues raised in the case.

“If you place district elections on the ballot and you give people that option, it alleviates the responsibility per se of the city,” said former Councilwoman Lorri Galloway. “They want to split the vote, and that’s how they’ll get what they ultimately want.”

Eastman has acknowledged that multiple ballot options would confuse the voters. “The more issues we put on the ballot, the more people will get confused,” The Orange County Register quoted her as saying.

Eastman said in a later interview with Voice of OC that she doesn’t actually hold that opinion and was merely quoting information provided to her by a source whom she could not recall.

“It’s one of those things where you get a lot of opinions and you need to consider them all. It’s obviously one opinion that’s out there,” Eastman said. “I need to evaluate for myself how valid I think that is.”

See, here’s the thing: these two separate questions would not confuse the voters nearly as much.  Two questions, two choices each = four outcomes: status quo, ACLU, Santa Ana, Ana Atnas.  You don’t need one plan to get a plurality; you just ask the voters to answer two questions and, from those two votes, you find out which plan they prefer.

If Judge Miller wants a solution for getting the question before voters, breaking it into two questions might be it.

About Greg Diamond

Somewhat verbose worker's rights and government accountability attorney, residing in northwest Brea. General Counsel of CATER, the Coalition of Anaheim Taxpayers for Economic Responsibility, a non-partisan group of people sick of local corruption. Deposed as Northern Vice Chair of DPOC in April 2014 when his anti-corruption and pro-consumer work in Anaheim infuriated the Building Trades and Teamsters in spring 2014, who then worked with the lawless and power-mad DPOC Chair to eliminate his internal oversight. Occasionally runs for office to challenge some nasty incumbent who would otherwise run unopposed. (Someday he might pick a fight with the intent to win rather than just dent someone. You'll know it when you see it.) He got 45% of the vote against Bob Huff for State Senate in 2012 and in 2014 became the first attorney to challenge OCDA Tony Rackauckas since 2002. None of his pre-putsch writings ever spoke for the Democratic Party at the local, county, state, national, or galactic level, nor do they now. A family member co-owns a business offering campaign treasurer services to Democratic candidates and the odd independent. He is very proud of her. He doesn't directly profit from her work and it doesn't affect his coverage. (He does not always favor her clients, though she might hesitate to take one that he truly hated.) He does advise some local campaigns informally and (so far) without compensation. (If that last bit changes, he will declare the interest.)