By David M. Greenwald
Davis, CA – On the local front, there was an interesting column this week from Bob Dunning regarding the candidacy of Dillan Horton.
Dunning references a reader who thinks Horton “is an excellent candidate with a number of attributes” but believes that Horton has little chance of winning “because of our new and disastrous district election scheme.”
Instead, the reader argues, “In a citywide election he would gain a seat and come in second or third.”
The problem in the current configuration is that he lives in District 2 which is currently held by Mayor Will Arnold.
Dunning quips, “I’d say Will would be hard to go against when only the top vote-getter is elected, as opposed to two or three being elected in an at-large election.”
She (the reader) adds, “Tell me how district elections make it easier for minorities to win a seat.”
“However, our gutless council bowed down to an unreasonable demand from an out-of-town lawyer, even though every single councilmember knew districts were not good for Davis. Bottom line: It’s always the right time to do the right thing.”
Valid points all around here, but I have a slightly different take.
First of all, it is by no means certain that Will Arnold will run again. If you recall, four years ago most people believed that Arnold would not run for a second term. I think if you asked him—which I did a number of times—he was leaning against it.
Among other things, he was thought to have to run head-to-head against his colleague Brett Lee. But Brett Lee issued a late and surprise announcement that he would not seek a third term and Will Arnold jumped back in.
With that in mind, it seems reasonable to wonder if he would run for a third term. I will leave it at—we shall see rather than speculate further.
Someone was asking me why Horton would have a kickoff event almost a year and a half before the November 2024 election. That seems wise on his part. I agree with the assessment that Will Arnold would be tough to beat.
Tough but not impossible. In 2020, in a three-way race, Arnold was held just under 50 percent. That was 2020 where a lot of students were not around to vote, which might have helped Horton. Of the 50.42 percent of the vote that did not support Arnold, Horton got 28.6 of that while Colin Walsh got 21.8 percent.
It’s not clear that Horton and Walsh split the anti-Arnold vote, however, as Horton’s issues are probably a good deal closer to Will Arnold than they were to Colin Walsh.
However, I’ve always been taught that any time the incumbent is held under 50 percent, they are at least nominally vulnerable.
In the meantime, Horton should be doing all he can to solidify himself as a strong candidate should Arnold not run—that’s still Horton’s best chance to actually getting a seat on council.
As for the district elections, while I have turned against districts, I don’t really agree with Dunning here that they were gutless. Rather they made a calculated decision, even though many expressed qualms about the decision and probably even more frustration about being forced into it.
Should the council have declined to implement districts, they would be where Santa Monica is today—in the middle of litigation. Litigation that would have been lengthy and expensive, and at the time not only uncertain but looking like an almost certain loser.
Could the city of Davis have afforded about $6 million or so (based on the estimates at the time) to litigate the matter? Probably not. Given the city’s fiscal predicament, I don’t think that would have been a prudent decision.
However, those calculations could change if Santa Monica prevails in their litigation. It would give the city a path to victory. Moreover, I’m not even certain there would be litigation at this point—the people who appeared to have filed the original petition are long since gone and there might not be a lot of motivation to continue after watching the results of the last few years.
In short, the day may well come when the city revisits their decision, but until then, I don’t think the risk-averse approach they took in 2019 was wrong.