Orange hit by districting lawsuit – read the complaint!




You may have already read, in the Register a couple days ago, that the city of Orange is the latest in the county to be hit by a lawsuit demanding the town move to district elections.  But if you wanted to read the actual complaint, you probably haven’t had the opportunity.  Well, I’ve come into possession of it, and HERE YOU GO.

Filed by usual suspect Kevin Shenkman on behalf of plaintiffs “Southwest Voter Registration Education Project” and Luis Ortiz-Franco, the complaint alleges disfranchisement of the city’s many Latino residents, because not only is that a fact, but that’s also how the CVRA (California Voters Right Act) works.  (The complaint places Orange’s Latino population at 38.1%, although the more relevant “Citizens of Voting Age” percentage is certainly lower.)

Don’t get me wrong, I support districting in Orange and full enfranchisement of the town’s Latinos and other minorities!  But as an insensitive white guy, I always (since joining Anaheim’s districting struggle in 2012) point out that there are several other reasons to support districting that are at least as important as race: 

  • It makes it much cheaper to run and win, leading to candidates who, if they work hard enough, will not be beholden to the big money in town. 
  • It also leads to representatives who are familiar with, and can keep track of, the needs of the specific areas they’re representing.

Mayor Mark Murphy, not liking this.

Well, if I’m an insensitive white guy, Orange Mayor Mark Murphy is a clueless white guy.  He complained to the Reg that the plaintiffs “must not have read his [2017] letter,” or they would KNOW that Orange has always had at least “one council member of Latino descent since 1968. Two of the five sitting council members were of Latino descent for 21 of those years!” 

Duh.  As Jose Moreno explains, it’s not relevant if some of the Councilmembers have happened to be brown or brown-ish, they are the choices of the white majority, while the town’s Latinos may very well prefer someone else who speaks more to their needs and aspirations, and that person may even be white.  (Although, given the time-honored disingenuousness of those of us driven passionately by goals, I’m sure that if there’d been NO Latino councilmembers that would have been mentioned in the suit.)

Murphy’s argument against district elections: Tita and Mike!

Murphy is apparently referring, at least in this past decade, to Mike Alvarez and Tita Smith (left.)  I first met both Murphy and Alvarez * at a Dec. 2013 re-election fundraiser for Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait.  But Murphy is no Tom Tait.  Tait was a champion of democracy and districting in Anaheim, while here we have Murphy clinging desperately to the status quo that keeps him in the game. 

Mike Alvarez, mainly remembered as the anti-homeless demagogue who fought so hard against the Bridges at Kraemer site with Matt Cunningham at his side, recently blustered that he’d “be the first to stand IN FRONT OF A TANK to stop Orange from becoming a Sanctuary City.”  There’s a Murphy Latino for you!  

(Tita seems like a nice enough lady, cherished mainly because her family has lived in the city since prehistoric times.  She is a Democrat, although she did work on some anti-abortion project with Tait, and her claim to being Latino – weaker even than my own or Lorri Galloway’s – is that her great-grandparents came from Spain.)

I think the last Orange Council meeting I attended was in the Mexican-bashing year of 2010, right after the Council unanimously passed a motion from Jon Dumitru (who’s actually trying to get back onto Council now) to declare Orange a “Rule-by-Law” city (a meaningless designation apparently denoting the platonic opposite of a Sanctuary City.)

Duane Roberts and I showed up representing the “Benevolent Association of Clown Municipalities,” congratulated the Council on their wise and important decision, and declared them a “Ruled by Clowns City.”  At that point some of our friends in the audience, dressed as clowns, began to dance around the chambers to the famous circus tune “Enter the Gladiators” played on a borrowed melodica.  The Council was dumbstruck.

But the point of re-telling this story here is:  the hateful anti-Latino resolution was passed unanimously, while alleged “Latina” Tita was on council.  Turns out she abstained from the vote, citing very vague “conflicts,” but no doubt reluctant to scare off her white voters.  When Orange has district elections, such a measure would not pass unanimously, or perhaps not at all.

The Beatriz Problem

Recent news of Orange politics has mainly focused on 2018 council runner-up Beatriz “Betty” Valencia and her supporters’ attempt to have the Council appoint her into the vacancy left by Murphy’s ascension to Mayor.  There’s no way these four fuddie-duddie conservatives were gonna appoint this progressive firebrand, so I thought it was a good outcome when they decided instead to have a special election this November.  It’ll be a challenge but I think Beatriz could pull it off.

And the plaintiffs in this suit admit that Council’s reluctance to appoint Beatriz was a factor in launching it.  I’m sure the hard-working Beatriz could easily win an election in the district where she lives, however it ends up being drawn.  But the Register idly wonders, in its closing paragraph, if the special November 2019 election will be under districting.  It’s hard to see how that would work, period, OR for Beatriz.  How would one district out of five (presumably) be chosen to go first, and what are the chances that’d be the one La Valencia lives in?  The suit was not clear, but I think the intent must be for district elections to start in 2020.

And maybe I’m not such an insensitive white guy after all – I just called Beatriz, and her thoughts on this sound very similar to mine.  She regrets the focus on race from both sides, she wants to represent all types of people, and the inequality she sees is mostly geographic.  All the councilmembers in recent memory (except recently-elected Chip Monaco) hail from either Old Towne Orange (near the Circle) or the area near Orange Park Acres, and in turn they get WAY more than their share of resources.  A prominent Orange Republican, speaking off the record, tells me EXACTLY the same thing, and is very enthused about this development.  So there you have it…


How would YOU slice up this Orange?

*Couple of corrections made March 4, including: It was Mike Spurgeon I met with Mark Murphy at Tait’s fundraiser, a different Orange politician than Mike Alvarez. And “Orange Park Acres” corrected to “the area near Orange Park Acres.”

About Vern Nelson

Greatest pianist/composer in Orange County, and official troubador of both Anaheim and Huntington Beach (the two ends of the Santa Ana Aquifer.) Performs regularly both solo, and with his savage-jazz quintet The Vern Nelson Problem. Reach at, or 714-235-VERN.