VIDEO: Tom Tait Tries to Explain to Balky Kris Murray What a ‘Legal Definition’ Means


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Kris Murray as Veruca Salt

If Kris Murray assures you that there is no salt in your food, confirm that she is referring to a sodium compound rather than to a character from a children’s book. Image shamelessly stolen from Jason Young.

A few comments on yesterday evening’s Anaheim City Council Meeting.

(1) Veruca Salt Insists On Having Her Way

Jason Young offers this video editing together the highlights of Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait patiently trying to teach Councilwoman Kris Murray what a “legal definition” of a concept is and why that’s important.  Like a child who will not believe that Monopoly money isn’t “money,” she simply refuses to believe it, on a ground similar to arguing that of course it’s money because it’s called “money” and people use it to play Monopoly.  My (fallible, but verfiable) quick transcription follows.

TAIT: [Murray’s Chart reads:] “The Citizens Advisory Commission recommended the issue of districting be put to a vote.  Council Agreed.”  That’s – that’s not true.  The CAC did recommend that the issue of districting be put to a vote, but the Council didn’t agree.  Council agreed to keep it at-large.  The people do not have a choice.  They have a choice between “at-large” and “at-large.”  That’s the choice.  That’s not a choice.

TAIT: I do not understand why – what’s anyone afraid of, of letting the people decide whether they want districting.

MURRAY: The facts are: it is a legal districting model in the state of California that is employed in our county and with other states.  It is a district system.

TAIT [to City Attorney Michael Houston]:  Is this, what we’re voting on tonight, a district system?  Is it an at-large or district system?  Legally?

HOUSTON: This is a system that is defined in state law as an at-large system.

MURRAY: It is a district-based system.  It is not fair for you to say that it’s false, that it is not a districting system.

TAIT: So, by definition, this is at-large.

HOUSTON: This is an at-large system.

TAIT: That’s my point.  So we are giving the – people will not be given a choice, they’ll be given a choice between two at-large systems.  The CAC asked that the issue of districting be put to a vote.  “Districting” has a meaning to it.  It means that people who live in the district vote for people in that district.

MURRAY: Now this is a legal and viable and valid option and we are taking steps to make immediate decisions in implementing it immediately by ordinance as well and then putting the two measures before our voters.

TAIT: This is about simply asking the people in Anaheim how they want to be represented: at-large or districting.   Right now the choice is “at-large” or “at-large.”

Tait — with the slightly exasperated patience of someone whose children have convinced him to try to teach their border collie to eat using chopsticks — persists in explaining to Murray that the legal definition of “districting,” according to state law, is one in which the voters within a given district choose a representative for that district.  (I’ve referred to this as a “voter-residency” system, as opposed to a “candidate-residency” system; beleaguered City Attorney Michael Houston uses the terms in the state Elections Code: a “by” versus a “from” system.)  You can call soy juice mixed with water “soy milk,” but legally that doesn’t make it ”milk.”

But Murray shall not be moved by such trivialities as Election Codes!  She points out that “candidate-residency” voting is “legal” and “viable” and ”valid.”  The same, of course, is true of Monopoly money.  It’s legal, viable, and valid — for a limited purpose, such as playing Monopoly.  Candidate-residency districts are legal, viable, and valid for the purpose of ensuring geographic diversity among candidates.  It is not, however, a “legal” or “viable” or “valid” way of allowing voters self-determination of who will represent their districts.  

That is what “districting” involves.  It’s in the bleeding Elections Code!  Even Michael Houston, who clearly did not want to be crossing the Representative from Disney, had to admit that several times.  A “from” election system is not categorized by state law as a “districting” system, but as an “at-large” system.  In the domain of voting systems — in which at least Judge Franz Miller understands us to be operating, even if Kris Murray does not – a system cannot be both “district” and “at-large”!

Now, frankly, it shouldn’t matter: for legal reasons, real districting — voter-residency districting — has to be approved whether or not the CAC endorsed a vote on it, or indeed whether or not the public votes for it.  (For reasons that will probably be obvious, we don’t put the voting rights of minorities up to a vote.)  But the fact is that despite the CAC’s dealing from a deck stacked by the Council, it somehow came out with a recommendation that the people vote on which system they wanted, while endorsing neither.

Murray can’t even follow that!  At one point, she argued that the CAC recommended to “put the issue of district OR at-large elections to the people,” as if that meant the Council should choose to put just one of them before voters.  How explicit would the CAC have had to make their instructions before Murray would have grudgingly felt forced to follow them?

(2) Kris Murray was right about one thing, though…

Despite some people’s suggestions to the contrary, I deal with a lot of issues besides Anaheim Districting.  So, in looking at the agenda and reminding myself that districting was to be discussed again, I forgot that this was about the (redundant) ordinance rather than the (more interesting and significant) charter amendment that is headed for the ballot (until Judge Miller most likely changes that.)  So I spoke about it as if it was the latter rather than the former.  The error wasn’t that consequential, though: I’d still have like to see Tait and Brandman try to remove the redundant words “at-large” from the ordinance — the words that make the proposed charter amendment conflict with any potential citizens initiative for real districting and render such an initiative far more difficult — but that wasn’t the moment to bring it up.  (It was a good chance to educate the viewing audience, though, so I’m still happy for that!)

For the record, here’s what can and should happen now — or any time before the deadline for finalizing the ballot: either Eastman or Kring have to propose reconsideration of the motion.  (Once the Judge slaps the snot out of the city might be a good time for that.)  Then, that person can vote, with Brandman and Tait, to remove the words “at large” from the ballot.  Then, such a measure won’t conflict with a measure to implement district voting.  OK?  So, talk to Eastman and Kring about how — their own preferences aside — they don’t trust the city’s voters to even consider districting.  We’ll keep that drum beating here.

(3) Here’s Some Other Friendly Advice for Kris Murray

If someone districting is determined by Judge Miller — based on, you know, California statutes and such — to involve “people voting for their representative” rather than a candidate dispersion system, perhaps she could next go after the word “vote.”  Here, I wrote her a speech:

“Sure, people can ‘vote on districting’ — but that doesn’t mean that it has to be a binding vote in a formal election.  Newspapers conduct print and online polls all of the time.  We can buy a quarter page in the Register and let Anaheim residents either mail in or electronically cast their ballots, and then we’ll know what they think!  Online voting is a legal and viable and valid option for finding out what people think that has been used in this county and elsewhere in the state.”

OK, it’s absurd — but it’s no more absurd than claiming that “districting” doesn’t mean what it means under state law.

(4)  The Next Line of Attack: Letting Dark People Vote Causes Disaster!

The meeting was important in that it introduced the next line of substantive attack over districting:

Yes, every city in the state that is larger than Anaheim has districts – but look how screwed up they are!  Los Angeles, San Jose, San Francisco, Long Beach — totally screwed up!  Anaheim, though, is not screwed up.  Let’s stick with at-large cities like Chula Vista and Newport Beach and, uh, Stockton.

(See, my including Stockton is funny because it’s the largest California city to go bankrupt.  Get it?)

The idea here is that where members of Council represent districts, they fight over money to represent their particular constituents.  In Anaheim, though, that doesn’t happen!  Of course, those other cities have large minority communities — which have representatives.  (I can’t recall — what is the most money that a Latino Democrat has ever spent to be elected to the Anaheim City Council?  Lorri Galloway — half-Spaniard and half-Filipina by ancestry, doesn’t count for purposes of this question.)

It appears not to occur to Murray that she is bragging here about the city’s not being pressured to spend money on those who clamor for it — which (1) shows a breathtaking lack of awareness, after the GardenWalk Giveaway and the Disney-but-not-Disney streetcar, and (2) practically amounts to a guilty plea on the charge that the disempowered in Anaheim don’t get listened to.  Anaheim, more than others, has kept Latinos out of power — and Latino Democrats, those from the party with which most Latinos identify — haven’t bothered running at all.  Bragging about not spending money — except on things like corporate welfare and massive police response to protests — is not really a good argument, when the argument boils down to “we’ve kept our brown people out of power — and look how good our budget is!”


About Greg Diamond

Worker's rights attorney now moving into "good governance" litigation. North Vice Chair of Democratic Party of Orange County and occasional candidate. Proud to be prolix. Unless otherwise specifically stated, his writings never speak for the Democratic Party at the local, county, state, national, or galactic level. He tries to either suppress or openly acknowledge his partisan, issue, ideological, and "good government" biases in most of his writing here. If you have a question about any particular writing, just ask him about it and (unless you are an pseudonymous troll) he will probably answer you at painful length. He lives in Brea but generally doesn't blog about it. A family member works as a campaign treasurer for Wendy Gabriella in AD-73; he doesn't directly profit from that relatively small compensation and it doesn't affect his coverage. He does advise some campaigns informally and without compensation, although in 2014 he may receive some compensation for campaign consulting and fundraising for the campaign of Jorge Lopez for Orange County Assessor.