Fullerton Councilman Greg Sebourn will find himself unexpectedly forced off the city council next year, as mayor and fellow Republican Bruce Whitaker joined with the council’s two Democrats to put council District 3 – in which Sebourn lives – on the 2020 rather than the 2018 ballot, thus preventing Sebourn from running for rel-election. One of those Democrats, newly-elected Councilman Jesus Silva, also lives in District 3.
Last November, 54% Fullerton voters voted to shift from at-large to by-district elections beginning in 2018, and at the same time approved map of five voting districts; the election was the result of two California Voting Rights Act (CVRA) lawsuits rather than grassroots citizens petition. The next step was for the city council to determine the sequencing of the districts: which two would be on the 2018 and which three would be on the 2020 ballot.
2016 was Fullerton’s last at-large council election; incumbents Bruce Whitaker and Jennifer Fitzgerald were re-elected, and Jesus Silva (husband of Democrat Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva) won the open seat.
Councilwoman Jennifer Fitzgerald lives in District 1; Mayor Pro Tem Doug Chaffee in District 2; and Mayor Bruce Whitaker in District 4. No councilmember currently lives in District 5.
District 3, however, is home to two current councilmembers: Sebourn and Silva.
Sebourn was first elected to city council in the August 2012 recall election, then elected to a full term in 2014. Since he and Silva both live in District 3, the sequencing vote obviously has a huge impact on their political futures.
If District 3 were placed on the off-year ballot starting in 2018, both Sebourn and Silva could run as incumbents. Even if Silva declined to run, he’d remain in office as an at-large councilman until 2020.
Placing District 3 on the 2020 ballot would allow Silva to run for a second four-year term – but Sebourn would be forced off the council in 2018 and would have to run as a private citizen rather than an incumbent.
GOP Councilwoman Jennifer Fitzgerald moved to put District 3 and District 5 (which currently lacks representation) on the 2018 ballot, and schedule Districts 1, 2 and 4 for the 2020 ballot; GOP Councilmember Greg Sebourn seconded her motion. Under this proposal, both Sebourn and Silva could run for the seat as incumbents.
Democrat Councilman Jesus Silva made a substitute motion to sequence Districts 2 and 5 for the 2018 election, and Districts 1, 3 and 4 for the 2020 election. Democrat Doug Chaffee seconded Silva’s motion. [Sidenote: Chaffee lives in District 2, the district with the heaviest GOP registration. Word is he won’t seek re-election so his wife can run to succeed him and ride his name ID as a quasi-incumbent.] Under this proposal, Sebourn would be forced off the council n 2018 and only Silva could run for re-election in 2020.
That left Mayor Bruce Whitaker as the deciding vote between giving his GOP council colleague Sebourn and erstwhile ally the opportunity to seek re-election, or forcing him off the council in favor of the Democratic spouse of the local Democratic Assemblymember.
Whitaker voted with Silva and Chaffee, and Silva’s substitute motion passed 3-2. Whitaker’s decision to side with the council’s two Democrats reportedly caught a stunned Sebourn completely by surprise. City hall watchers ascribe Whitaker’s decision as political payback for Silva’s recent vote to return Whitaker to his coveted seat on the Orange County Water District Board of Directors.
When Fitzgerald voted in January 2014 to replace Whitaker with Democrat Jan Flory as Fullerton’s representative on the OCWD, she received considerable flack from a number of OC GOP activists. She ultimately declined to seek the county party endorsement for re-election in 2016; the OC GOP endorsed Bruce Whitaker for re-election. Will there be similarly gnashing and wailing within local GOP circles over Whitaker’s choice of Silva over Sebourn?