In 2012, Kitty Jaramillo unsuccessfully ran for the Fullerton City Council for a second time. In an election where 12 percent of the popular vote would have won her one of the three open council seats, and where she campaigned as a champion of the Hispanic population that makes up 35 percent of the City’s residents, she only garnered less than seven percent of the popular vote.
Unchastened that a second loss might have been due to her political affiliation or the issues she ran on, Jaramillo instead resorted to the courts, filing one of two lawsuits challenging Fullerton’s at-large council election procedure. Jaramillo, along with Jonathan Paik, joined special interest groups and five (five!) sets of lawyers to file two lawsuits against the City alleging violation of California’s Voting Rights Act (“CVRA”). Neighbor Anaheim relented in a similar voting rights lawsuit that ended in 2014 after two years of expensive litigation, which may have been the reason that in response to the Jaramillo and Paik lawsuits, the Fullerton City Council quickly entered into a tentative settlement with the plaintiffs. Why waste attorney’s fees fighting for a color-blind election process when under current California law, such is a lost cause?
How marginal candidate Kitty Jaramillo was able to leverage her losses into a payday for lawyers and a third shot at a city council seat on a tilted playing field is the legacy of the corruption of the CVRA by trial lawyers and racially-motivated special interests.
The Artifice of Community-Wide Suffrage in the Age of Racial-Identity Politics
At a June 7th city council meeting, Fullerton residents will have a chance to provide input on proposed voting districts that may shape Fullerton City Council elections following the 2016 election cycle. This process is legally-mandated as part of the settlement of Jaramillo’s and Paik’s suits. Currently available to view on the City’s website, the choices have been winnowed to four proposed voting district maps. Each map varies in slicing Fullerton into five pieces of misshapen pie for future councilmembers to ostensibly represent. What these potential districts represent to a marginal candidate like Jaramillo, and to whatever candidate Paik might support, is a better shot at winning a council seat by pandering to the racial predilictions of a smaller district rather than playing to the racial predilictions of a voting group in an entire city.
Currently, Fullerton’s five councilmembers represent all City residents. But, as critics point out, the current set of councilmembers is all Caucasian. For Korean-American Paik, five Caucasians on the council was at least four too many given the racial makeup of Fullerton is one-quarter Asian-American. Paik, who considers himself part of the larger Asian-American voting bloc of Fullerton, felt that his and other residents’ racial, ethnic or other identity-based political needs were not being met by the current at-large council system.
Not surprisingly for these types of lawsuits, what actual political or governance needs of Mr. Paik weren’t being met by the current council composition wasn’t even remotely supported in the allegations of his lawsuit, other than the obvious reference to adding up numbers about racial and ethnic makeup and comparing columns. As to the harm Mr. Paik and similarly-situated Asian-American voters in the City suffered from at-large voting, Mr. Paik and his team of four different sets of lawyers could only point to two-decade-old hiring data about employees in city government, a couple of anecdotal examples of bias from elections in the 1990s, and an uncorrelated and unexplained claim of higher poverty among Asian-American Fullerton residents compared to their Caucasian counterparts.
But causality and harm are not important under either the tally-the-numbers milieu of profitable racial-identity politics or under the requirements of the current interpretation of the CVRA. Thus, merely alleging vague allegations of disparate impact – alongside the threat of long, drawn out litigation with an attorney’s fee award on the end — is all it takes to change a city’s voting process and make it race-centric, in the process unwinding efforts that reached their crescendo in the 1960’s to promote a color-blind society. Instead of worrying about political affiliation or platform, Fullerton residents are now frog-marched into a process where they must attempt to cajole their council members at the June 7th council meeting how they want their racial-identities broken down by district, whatever those identities might now be.
The result of this process will determine whether in 2018 a marginal candidate like Jaramillo will get a chance to convince nothing but voters who share her same racial and ethnic background and potentially her prejudices, as to whether she’s a worthy council candidate to represent only their interests in the City. Presumably, if she’s elected in a predominantly Hispanic district, she will thereafter represent Hispanics’ interests to the exclusion of say, Mr. Paik and Asian-American voters’ interests, whatever those interests might be and however they might differ from Hispanics’, because those neighbors are in a district that Ms. Jaramillo won’t represent.
Tomorrow…Trial Lawyers To The Rescue!