Guest Voice: Council Districts in Anaheim Mean Less Special Interest Politics

Tom Tait
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Last month, I asked aloud, why doesn’t anyone run for office in Orange County?

Orange County has 33 school board, water districts, and library districts without enough candidates to warrant an election.

Laguna Niguel, for the third time since 1991 cancelled their City Council elections because there weren’t enough candidates to warrant one.

And Newport Beach, for the second time in two years, had only one candidate run in an open district seat.

The feedback I received was pretty varied, buy overwhelmingly the gist was the same.

It’s too expensive to run for office. Too many big pocketed special interests too willing to spend hundreds of thousands for their choice of candidates. How can the little guy compete?

The Newport Beach City Council is split into seven districts, but they are voted at large, which only means that a councilmember needs to live in a certain area, but anyone in the city can vote for them.

Ask 10 voters in Newport Beach about that, and nine will not have any idea that’s how it works.

But basically, Newport Beach’s at large Districts means that the candidate would need to raise hundreds of thousands (Newport Beach city council candidate Marshall Duffield has raised almost $200k) just to compete.

In Seal Beach, however, their city council districts are voted within their districts which means that only the people in the candidate’s own district can vote for them.

Take Seal Beach councilman Mike Levitt, who raised and spent less than $1000 in his 2010 re-election campaign to narrowly defeat his challenger.

Instead of spending his time and efforts going to fundraisers, Levitt spent his time meeting his neighbors, shaking hands, knocking on doors, and addressing issues.

Levitt likes the Seal Beach system because they are “elected by the people who know you best or “not” elected by the people who know you best,” and because of that, there are no outside special interests in Seal Beach politics.

This rings especially poignant in the 2008 Newport Beach City Council when the incumbent councilmember Steve Rosansky lost his own home district, but was still elected city wide. Who knows Rosansky best, his neighbors in West Newport or the average voter on the other side of town in Newport Coast?

All this leads me to Measure L in Anaheim and Mayor Tom Tait’s efforts to bring their city council elections back into the hands of the people, wanting to implement the Seal Beach district system to Anaheim.

Tait believes that by doing this, Anaheim will go back to its locals voters instead of the big pocketed special interests who spent in excess of $500k in the 2012 elections, and the voters would actually get to know their council members instead of just reading about them in expensive glossy mailers.

Tait asks that in a Seal Beach type districts, what will a candidate be more likely to go to, a local high school football game or a fundraiser on the other side of town?

Recently, a group of Newport Beach candidates skipped a local community forum, choosing to attend a fundraiser instead. Where was their priority there? To meet their neighbors or to raise some money?

And I can hear the arguments against the Seal Beach type of districting now.

“The councilman will only care about their own district.”

“There will be too much horse trading, back room deals.”

“Absolutely not true”, Levitt responded because a councilman still has to count to 3 to get something passed and because of the Brown Act, those back room deals would be much tougher to pull off.

Plus, in his 10 years on the Seal Beach city council he had never seen anything close to trading favors on his dais.

But the advantage can be encapsulated by Republican Party of Orange County Chairman Scott Baugh saying that “representation closer to the people is generally better in larger cities,” qualifying that by also saying that he doesn’t take a position on Anaheim’s Measure L since it’s up to their own community to decide that.

Essentially let the voters pick their representatives, not the special interests.

Take money out running office and force the city council candidates to meet their constituents again and make their public servants instead of politicians.

Guest Voice Jack Wu is a longtime volunteer within the Republican Party of Orange County, including a decade as an alternate central committee member for former Chairman Tom Fuentes.

Wu, who runs a small tax and accounting firm in Newport Beach also currently serves as campaign treasurer for Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, and has been a voting delegate of the California Republican Party for the better part of a decade.

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