UPDATED: Coast Community College District Yields To GOP Legal Pressure to Shift to District-Based Elections

The Coast Community College District (CCCD) has agreed to stop electing its governing board members on an at-large basis and shift district-based voting for its November 2018 board of trustees election. The decision is in response to a demand by Xavier Nguyen, who unsuccessfully challenged Trustee Area 2 incumbent Jerry Patterson.

Each member of the CCCD Board of Trustees is elected from a trustee area in which they must reside, but they are voted on district-wide. Although Nguyen beat Patterson among Trustee Area 2 voters, Patterson received more district-wide votes and defeated Nguyen 66% to 33%.  In other words, Nguyen would have won under a by-district election system.

UPDATED: An OC Daily reader informed us that although Nguyen ran stronger in Area 2 than district-wide, Patterson did win Area 2 with 53.8% to Nguyen’s 46.2%.

However, the same reader pointed out that Jonathan Bao Huynh edged Area 4 incumbent Mary Hornbuckle 50.2% to 49.8% within Area 4, while losing district-wide by 65.5% to 34.5%.

Nguyen retained the law firms of Cummins & White and Steel & Associates to demand CCCD shift to by-district elections are face a California Voting Rights Act lawsuit (CVRA). The CVRA is premised on the idea that voters prefer to elect candidates of their race or ethnicity (“racially-polarized voting”) and that at-large elections prevent minority voters from electing the “candidates of their choice.” A large number of Vietnamese-American voters are concentrated in Trustee Area; the CCCD would almost certainly have lost a CVRA lawsuit.

At its July 19 meeting, the CCCD Board of Trustees approved the move to by-district elections at its July 19 meeting. According to a CCCD press release:

Transitioning to the new system requires that the Board of Trustees hold five public hearings.  The first two will be held on August 2, 2017 and August 16, 2017 at 5 p.m. in the Board meeting room at 1370 Adams Avenue, Costa Mesa, CA. A proposed map or maps of trustee area boundaries will then be prepared and hearings on the map or maps will be scheduled by the Board of Trustees.  Following approval by the Board of Trustees of the map of Trustee Area boundaries, an application will be filed with the California Community Colleges Board of Governors.  If the Board of Governors approves the application, the “by-trustee” area voting will go into effect starting with the 2018 general election on Tuesday, November 6, 2018.

Analysis
The CVRA was enacted in 2002, and since then progressives Democrats have aggressively used actual or threatened CVRA lawsuits to force city and school boards to move from at-large to by-district elections. This has especially been the case in Orange County during the past five years in cities such as Anaheim, Garden Grove and Fullerton. The CVRA language also created a huge financial incentive for lawyers to file CVRA lawsuits as a properly chosen target almost guaranteed a big pay-day.

Vong Nguyen’s lawsuit flips the script. The law firms he retained are run (respectively) by OC Republican Party Chairman Fred Whitaker and California’s Republican National Committeeman Shawn Steel.  The 82-year old Patterson is a Democrat who has been on the CCCD Board of Trustees since 1996, and was the a Democratic congressman from central Orange County from 1974 to 1984, when he was beaten by Bob Dornan.

This could portend a CVRA lawsuit against Santa Ana, which has a significant Vietnamese-America population but whose 7-member city council is entirely Latino (and Democrat). Santa Ana’s city council is elected using the same system as the CCCD. Councilman Sal Tinajero has recently become a strong advocate of moving to by-district elections out of the belief it would reduce the political punch of the police officers union. The latter’s success in the November election in changing the balance of power on the council suddenly alerted the liberal Democrat to the dangers of public employee union power.

Most political observers believe a move to by-district elections would lead to the election of one or two Vietnamese candidates, who are more likely to be Republicans.

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