Glossing Over The Reality Of Costa Mesa’s Shift To By-District Elections

The Costa Mesa City Council has decided it would be imprudent to fight a threatened California Voting Rights Act lawsuit, and will instead end its historic at-large election system in favor of by-district elections.

The Orange County Register praised the council’s decision in an April 22 editorial. This isn’t surprising: the OCR‘s editorial page signed up for by-district elections cause when a left-wing coalition began campaigning for them in Anaheim.

The editorial thanks the council for putting “before residents in November the choice of moving to a district system for the five council seats.

Malibu Attorney Kevin Shenkman

The truth, however, is Costa Mesa citizens are not being given any real choice in the matter. If they vote to keep at-large elections, attorney Kevin Shenkman will sue and a judge will then impose by-district elections on them anyway. The sole reason an election is being held is state law requires it in general law cities with populations of more than 100,000 people. This election is a sham exercise.

The settlement between the city and Mr. Shenkman compounds the unfree nature of this process. It requires the city council to sign the ballot argument in favor of by-district elections, even though at least some of them do not. Forcing someone to take a political stance in opposition to their conscience smacks of tyranny.

The editorial states “Costa Mesa’s decision is reacting, in part, to a letter in December by Kevin Shenkman, a Malibu-based attorney.”

In fact, Costa Mesa’s shift district’s is due entirely due to the threat of a lawsuit. The city has a legal gun to its head. There was no prior movement by the council to go to by-district elections, nor was there any organic, citizen level movement or demand for them. This dramatic change in how the citizens of Costa Mesa govern themselves is being driven by an attorney who makes his living this way, and the Costa Mesans have little choice in the matter.

The editorial closes by opining:

“In Costa Mesa, even if a Hispanic person is not elected to the council, a district system probably would bring Hispanics’ needs and concerns more directly before the council.”

It’s disappointing to watch the OC Register editorial page buy into the Left’s belief that authentic representation is a function of race and ethnicity.  This country’s struggle toward color-blind government was a long and bloody one. Elected bodies are supposed to represent all citizens – to secure their rights regardless of their race, ethnicity or color.

Do Latinos – or Asian or white residents, for that matter – have divergent “needs and concerns” stemming from their skin color? Are the “needs and concerns” of people a subset of their race or ethnicity, to which government must attend on that basis? And if so, shouldn’t by-dsitrict election proponents tell us what they are, and why they necessitate changing how citizens elect their city councils, even if they oppose the change?

Finally, shouldn’t residents of a city decide for themselves, on their own timetable and discretion, if they want to alter how they elect their councilmembers? It’s too bad the Register’s enthusiasm for by-district elections seems to have blinded it to basic civics in a free society.


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