The conventional wisdom around Davis has been speculation about the three sitting councilmembers up for election in 2020, that Brett Lee and Lucas Frerichs will run for re-election while Will Arnold will not.
Given his young children, the fact that his family’s business, Mother and Baby Source, went out of business and other factors, it seemed like a foregone conclusion that Will Arnold would not seek a second term.
In fact, Colin Walsh during public comment pointed out that Councilmember Arnold had closed his campaign account. But, as Mr. Arnold pointed out in his comments, he had zero balance and it takes a quick filing of paper work to open a new one.
The game changer was the move for district elections – not only will the electoral district be considerably smaller than a citywide election, but Matt Rexroad basically forced the city to move the elections back to November. That has allowed Will Arnold additional time to think about whether or not he wants to seek re-election.
Making things a bit more interesting are the dynamics that ended up playing out on Tuesday. Gloria Partida two weeks ago was leaning toward supporting seven districts, but she suddenly flipped to five.
All of a sudden with Dan Carson and Will Arnold that meant there were now three votes for five districts.
One way to look at the voting on the districts – two of the incumbents, Brett Lee and Lucas Frerichs, who could have been pushed into conflicted districts, supported seven districts. But not Will Arnold – he believed that the city did not need to go to seven and that a leap to seven was not in its best interest.
But that did not seem that strange at the time – given that most people assumed Will Arnold would not be running to for re-election.
Dan Carson was adamant that he wanted the 5-4 map. That map would put Will Arnold in the same district with sitting Mayor Brett Lee. Will Arnold did make a brief push for 5-3, arguing that 5-4 did some strange things in the northern part by splitting up some neighborhoods. But his pushback was fleeting and almost halfhearted.
It quickly became clear that if the council was going to five – and no one budged, even when Mayor Lee pushed a little harder for seven at the end – they were going to the 5-4 alignment.
Of course none of this matters that much if Will Arnold is not going to run. But, based on several conversations and exchanges this week, that can no longer be assumed. In fact, I would go so far as to say that any potential challengers and incumbents should act as though Will Arnold will seek re-election.
Indeed, he seems to have a bit of a chip on his shoulder, and sounds like a man gearing up for a fight.
On the record, he was only willing to say: “I am actively exploring my options for 2020 and beyond. Should I run for re-election to the City Council, I’m certain it will be a spirited campaign. I’m ready for that.”
In the last ten years, we have seen a marked change, at least on the dais among councilmembers in terms of how they conduct themselves. From 2006 to 2010, when the Vanguard first started, we saw regular feuds and hot exchanges – the most notable was Sue Greenwald and Ruth Asmundson going at it, but we also had some monologues by Don Saylor on civility and Stephen Souza had some notable exchanges as well.
During that period, a frequent contested vote was a 3-2 vote with Don Saylor, Ruth Asmundson and Stephen Souza forming a unusually impenetrable 3-2 voting block.
That has changed – even the 3-2 split on the 5 versus 7 turned into a 5-0 vote for the 5-4 map, even as there were clear differences in terms of which district configuration was the preference.
It is not that the heat has run out of Davis politics, but it is rather that the last several councils have preferred the consensus model of governance, where they look toward compromise and finding paths forward, rather than to conflict and confrontation.
The 2016 campaign featured two incumbents, with Will Arnold jumping in basically to replace Dan Wolk and Matt Williams serving more as a challenger. But that proved to be a relatively tame campaign – all four candidates supported Nishi in 2016 and the council incumbents ran on consensus and achievement grounds.
What we have not seen, perhaps since 2008, is a campaign where sitting councilmembers squared off against each other. In that campaign, Don Saylor and Stephen Souza argued that we had a balanced budget with a 15 percent reserve, while Sue Greenwald argued that this was an illusion (a few months later Sue Greenwald was proven correct) – and at times they had some heated exchanges.
But Davis has not seen that kind of campaign in a long time – where ideas are not simply promoted and accomplishments touted, but actual differences come out and there are debates and disagreements over policy proposals and voting record.
That could happen here.
A Will Arnold/Brett Lee campaign could see two people who often vote on the same side of major issues be forced into a survival test, which could throw recent conventions of Davis politics out the window.
This might be the only time we ever see such a race now that district elections will insulate incumbents from competing against each other. There are only two scenarios in the future that this could happen with incumbents – redistricting or someone moves. The chance of it occurring is fairly remote.
Adding more potential intrigue to a Will Arnold/Brett Lee showdown is the possibility that Colin Walsh, who apparently also lives in the district, could get involved.
The signal here is clear. On the record, Will Arnold allowed for a “spirited campaign,” while off-the-record he is a bit hot under the collar and seems to feel disrespected by the presumptuousness of his colleagues.
That could all make for a rather intriguing 2020 after all.
—David M. Greenwald reporting