Commentary: First Goal of District Elections – Don’t Undermine the System Before It Gets Implemented

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Seven District – Option 2

I have stated a number of times already that I would like to see three specific things come out of the district election process.

First, I would like to see at least one district that is likely to be a minority-majority district.  Contrary to a lot of people in this community, I don’t think people of color are often well represented here.  When I first got active here in Davis, the concerns that people of color had in their interactions with police were often ignored.  Racial profiling by both police and citizens were rampant.  Problems like achievement gap and discrimination remain.

While things on this front are better than they were in 2006 – having representation on the city council and school board are paramount to ensuring that we protect rights and address grievances.

Second, I would like to see at least one student majority district.  Whether or not that would actually create a student representative on council is another matter – and will depend on organizing and voter registration.

But students have their own unique challenges, from issues like noise and nuisance to the need for housing and transportation.

While many will argue students are transitory – and individual students are indeed so – students as a whole will be omnipresent in the community.  The student of today will have the duty and obligation to represent the student of tomorrow.

Third, I support a seven-district configuration.  There are both positives and negatives of course to expanding districts.  The biggest downside is more elected representatives – and more time discussing issues.

But at the same time, the smaller the districts, the lower the barrier to entry and the more likely we are to see communities of interest, like people of color and students, represented on the city council.

Some will say then why not nine – because if seven is heaven, nine is divine.  The reality is that it’s a trade off between representation and logical and practical concerns.  To me, seven threads that needle well.

All of those issues are important.  In fact, I would go so far as to say that without addressing those issues, we have not fulfilled our obligations under CVRA (California Voting Rights Act).  However, all of this comes with a warning sign.  Whatever system we devise here is fragile.

The community is leery of district elections.  There is good reason for that.  Many people have come to the conclusion that a political game is underfoot and behind the effort by Matt Rexroad and his clients (as we strongly suspect the College Republicans’ involvement) in the creation of the system.

Many people believe that Davis does not need district elections.  Many still believe that this is a largely white and monolithic community.  Many more will argue that there are no ethnic or racial enclaves.

Those who understand the system and the process recognize that the council has little choice here, and that accounts for the lack of anger or pushback in most of the community.

But there is a danger here.  That danger could undermine the patience and tolerance that many have for change.  It carries with it a risk of undermining support for the entire system.

To put it simply, most people really don’t care what the districts look like.  But what they will care is if it looks like their elected representatives are attempting to rig the system, to engineer the system, to game the system to protect incumbents.

I would argue that one of the problems with the current system is some areas of town are under-representative while others are over-representative.  We talk ourselves into the notion that this doesn’t matter.  After all, we are a small town, and the interests of Anderson Road residents are not that different from those of the Mace area.

But whether you can justify the current arrangement or not, I would argue that there will be the temptation by those on council to gerrymander the districts to avoid putting two incumbents in one district.

To me that would be a huge mistake.  It will have the tendency to undermine the community’s trust and support in the entire system.  And for what?  A temporary advantage of not having incumbent face incumbent?

This is a one-time problem.  Anytime you design a system anew, you will create conflicts.  I would argue those are healthy.  Change is good.  It keeps things fresh.  No one is indispensable in a democracy.

The number one commodity is trust in a democracy.  Trust in the system.  Trust that those elected will hold the good of the community over their personal good.

As the school board says, we move at the speed of trust.  In times of change, trust is even more important.  And thus, I would argue not to undermine that trust before we even get started.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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11 thoughts on “Commentary: First Goal of District Elections – Don’t Undermine the System Before It Gets Implemented”

  1. Alan Miller

    a political game is underfoot and behind the effort by Matt Rexroad and his clients

    Maybe we should game the boundaries so we get a Republican-majority district.  Why not?  How is that any more legal-illegal, right-wrong than drawing boundaries for students, renters, minorities?  “Honest question” as what’s-iz-name says.

    I miss the days of Jerry Adler . . . #sniff#

    1. Bill Marshall

      I actually liked Jerry on CC… think the Brits call it the ‘loyal opposition’… a Republican who would be deemed ‘moderate’, or ‘closet liberal’ in today’s environment of Republican politics….

  2. Alan Miller

    There are also the contiguous requirements.  Paul Mitchell said the requirement is “functionally continuous.”  On a map, things could look contiguous, but if you cannot get from point A to point B and stay in the district, it is not considered contiguous.  “If you need a canteen and a map to get from one side of the district to another, it’s not really contiguous,” he said, noting the issue is more common with legislative districts, which often include mountain ranges as geographic barriers

    And yet, at a council meeting he used the example of including Olive Drive with downtown, because of the difficulty of crossing the tracks.  Then, he draws a district map that has Olive Drive included with both downtown and south Davis, thus meaning you have to cross two barriers — I-80 and the railroad, to connect the two.  If those along with 113 aren’t the biggest barriers in town, what is?  Yet after making these statements on ‘needing a canteen’ and then draws districts across the Nile.

        1. Bill Marshall

          Depends on transportation mode… and relative ease… car is one thing, bicycle is another, transit, wheelchair/walker/guide dog are yet anothers… it depends… like in many things… “barriers” to a given mode, vary…

  3. Alan Miller

    “First, I would like to see at least one district . . .

    Second, I would like to see at least one . . .

    Third, I support a . . .”

    I would like a pony.

    OK, that was rejected, so let me state this in non-joke form, saying the same thing.  The district boundaries are a f*cking joke.  The City should have sued Max Rexroad for suing them.  I don’t care how much it cost.  You can’t keep giving in to extortion or you get more extortion.  This City should not draw boundaries to meet the political agenda of the Davis Vanguard or anyone.  There is no fair way to draw boundaries that meet all possible help scenarios to all the groups that are out there, and freddy-mandering the boundries to try to make them work for particular groups doesn’t work either.  No matter what, there are going to be un-intended consequences from these districts.  And I see no proof that they are going to help anyone in Davis.  And districts are stupid.

  4. Alan Miller

    The student of today will have the duty and obligation to represent the student of tomorrow.

    And they won’t, cuz they never do.

    OK, that was rejected, so I’ll say it in different words that are less like a joke, because apparently making a point with humor isn’t OK anymore.   So here it is:  students historically vote in very small percentages relative to their population.  Including, the famous fact that they turned out in great numbers to go to Bernie rallies, but in very small numbers to actually vote for him or anyone.  Therefore, you can lead a student to a voting booth, but you can’t make them vote.  Oh, that was joke, shame on me.  But the point is, you can draw students a district, but many will remain registered in the town they came from, won’t be up on the issues, won’t vote, and the district won’t solve the problem of students being on campus and not being able to vote — which is the one thing I think we do as a City need to change.  But not so lots of students vote, that’s up to them — but to give them the OPPORTUNITY to vote.

     

    1. Bill Marshall

      OK, that was rejected, so I’ll say it in different words that are less like a joke, because apparently making a point with humor isn’t OK anymore. 

      I missed (apparently) the precursor…

      Think Buffalo Springfield yet again…

      For what it’s worth, I still assert we take this in steps… we have to go to districts… reluctantly accepted as reality; we do not have to go with more than 5 (yes, I know I’m in the minority [pun intended] on that); we need to comply with the law, and good practice, but not necessarily on folks’ wanna’s… several are opining that their wanna’s are the only way to meet the letter and spirit of the law, good practice.

      I disagree, and am likely to convey this attitude Tuesday… my right, to attempt to have that view represented/respected… but if anyone says I should/must not have that view/attitude, and falsely attribute it to ‘places’ I know it does not come from, “them’s fighting words”.  Don’t dare to tell me how to think, how to believe.  And I’ll respect others as long as they speak to facts

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