There are a lot of reasonable questions that the community can ask at this point – one of the biggest perhaps is why the city didn’t anticipate the challenge of converting to district elections before receiving the letter. For all of the criticism that the school board received, by jumping the gun they avoided the tight timeline that the city now faces.
However, that timeline might be flexible. Matt Rexroad, representing the two clients who are still anonymous, said that “we are going to (be) ok with giving more time.”
He added, “If they would have asked before the meeting … We would have gotten right back to them.”
As people attempt to guess motivation here, “It is extremely unlikely that either of my clients will ever run for public office in Davis.”
What Mr. Rexroad and his clients were not willing to do was wait until 2022 to make these changes. That was very clear in the letter that came out on Tuesday, dated July 25.
He wrote, “We have discussed your proposed resolution with our clients, and they have instructed us to refuse to your proposal. We hereby reiterate our demand that Davis change its election system to a district-based election system in time for the 2020 elections.”
City Attorney Inder Khalasa, responding to a question from Councilmember Dan Carson, made it clear that the city would risk serious financial consequences should they challenge Mr. Rexroad on this.
“The decision to transition to district elections and then hold the election at-large in 2020 – Mr. Rexroad has indicated he would challenge that and bring a lawsuit against the city,” she said.
That clinched the deal for November.
Moving to November was the right thing to do anyway. Councilmember Will Arnold said he was “somewhat begrudgingly in favor of moving toward an election in November 2020.” He pointed out, “That is maximum voter participation. I think that’s a good thing for democracy.”
Lucas Frerichs pointed out – as we have – that Davis is now the only city in the county that does its municipal elections in the primary.
The numbers strongly bear out the need to move to November – if the goal is more participation by people of color and overall.
Just looking at 2016 and 2018, Latinos and Asians are less than 15 percent of voters in primaries, whereas they are around 18 to 19 percent in the general. While that is not necessarily earth-shattering, it is about a 30 percent increase.
But even more than that, the voter turnout across the board is vastly different. Most primaries have less than 50 percent voter turnout, versus general elections with upwards of 70 percent overall turnout. Even forgetting the issue of RPV (racially polarized voting), the participation rates during the general demonstrate a need to consider the change.
One of the big concerns might be resolved. Lucas Frerichs in his comments indicated, “I’m not convinced that the 90-day window is long enough.”
He might be right. Now that Mr. Rexroad indicates his willingness to extend that timeline, it could provide the city with the time it needs to draw the districts in the best possible way.
Thus far I am not supportive of the idea of a citizen’s commission. I believe that a professional demographer working with city staff and the council, subject to public scrutiny and an open public meeting as laid out in the law, should be sufficient.
With that said, my view of that may change if this becomes an exercise in the protection of incumbents rather than an effort to create the fairest and most diverse districts possible.
The spirit of the California Voting Rights Act is to create the potential for more participation by marginalized groups. An effort to draw district boundaries to protect the districts for the incumbents would violate the spirit if not the letter of that law.
One question that I do think the city should at least entertain is what it would take to go beyond five districts. Does it take a charter or can a general law city do so?
On Tuesday, there was a good amount of anger directed toward Mr. Rexroad on this issue.
The most pointed perhaps came from Dan Carson who said, “I think it’s inappropriate for a former city councilmember and County Supervisor who resides in Woodland, who after he retires from public office, turns around and hits the city with a demand letter that says, if you don’t do what I say right away, I’m going to take away millions of hard-earned tax dollars that belong to your city. That’s really wrong.”
Mayor Brett Lee added, “I found that demand letter fairly offensive. I don’t think it was coming from a place of sincere desire for improving the governance of Davis.”
Gloria Partida, reading from prepared remarks, said, “I’m not a fan of people with hidden agendas using hard-won paths to level real inequity to further those agendas.”
She said, “It may be that political representation is a legitimate concern for our city and that people have been hurt by our current process. But the current process being unwinnable and costly as it is, robs our community of exploring and rectifying this problem in a deliberate and thoughtful way.”
I understand the frustration, but Matt Rexroad in a way is the messenger not the vehicle for this suit. He is simply the voice representing two citizens in this process rather than being the vehicle itself.
It would probably behoove everyone if they knew who the actual litigants were here, but putting this on Mr. Rexroad seems to be akin to killing the messenger.
I do think if we are going to go to the blame direction, the failure of the city to anticipate their vulnerability to this type of action should outrank the actions by Mr. Rexroad and his clients.
The bottom line at least for me is that I believe, contrary to the views expressed by several on Tuesday night, that Davis is a city that is a good deal more polarized racially than people give it credit for being.
While people can certainly talk about factors other than race which play a role, the fact remains that in the bivariate analysis, the difference between Gloria Partida and Dan Carson was rather telling. In heavily white precincts with only four percent Latinx registered voters, Dan Carson was a plus 5. In the most heavily Latinx precincts, Gloria Partida was a plus 20.
Are there other factors? Yes, I think so. Race certainly overlaps with socio-economic and perhaps political liberalism and party ID. On the other hand, in the nation as a whole, race is a huge explanatory variable in voting behavior that actually strongly dwarfs socio-economic status.
I also disagreed with Dan Carson, who argued that this was not a community divided by race.
This is not a community that looks beyond racial differences. People of color give this city poor marks on race relations. Students of color, whether they are at DJUSD or UC Davis, feel marginalized.
In this debate and discussion, we have unfortunately lost sight of that as we argue to protect a system of government that really isn’t necessarily the optimal one.
I completely understand the frustration of feeling forced into it by an outsider – whether it be Mr. Rexroad, his clients hiding behind anonymity, or the state law. But aside from that, this is the right thing to do and the numbers are far more compelling than I thought possible.
—David M. Greenwald reporting