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Jonathan Kraut: SCV could see districts

Posted: July 30, 2013 2:00 a.m.
Updated: July 30, 2013 2:00 a.m.

This past Thursday a local Superior Court judge ruled that the city of Palmdale must consider abandoning its at-large voting practice and instead divide the five council seats into districts.

The judge’s ruling is based on the fact that Palmdale is comprised of about 30 percent Latino/Hispanic residents, but no Latino/Hispanic officials are on the Palmdale City Council.

Nearly identical lawsuits filed by the same law firm team as the one involved in Palmdale have been served on the Santa Clarita Community College District, the Sulphur Springs School District and the city of Santa Clarita.

This means that it is likely that Santa Clarita City Council, the COC Board of Trustees, the Sulpher Springs School District board and city councils and school districts throughout the state will be required to divide seats into geographic subdivisions instead of having district-wide, at-large elections.

The premise of the California Voting Rights Act of 2001 is to ensure meaningful influence by "any protected class," i.e., minority race or group.

But a "protected class" could include every minority race, gays and lesbians, the elderly, those with disabilities, etc.

The judge, as required by this Act, has ruled that some protected classes must have the opportunity to elect to office an official from that group.

This recent ruling has generated some unexpected consequences, despite the well-intended California Voting Rights Act. This simply means that the Act, as written, stinks.

First, the ruling assumes that only a person of a Hispanic origin can represent the interests of Hispanics. It implies that simply belonging to a racial group or protected class guarantees adequate representation.

That would mean only the disabled can adequately represent the disabled, only a gay person could represent gays, etc.

Second, it implies that not belonging to a racial group or protected class negates one’s ability to serve. That sounds like a racist viewpoint to me.

I served as a member of the California Latino Caucus for a number of years and I am not one scintilla Hispanic, Latino, or Chicano.

However, I was nominated, elected, and continued to support the views, perspectives, and rights of this very diverse population without challenge.

This and other caucuses recruit members that are competent and fair, and not exclusively by race. This Act implies that if I am not a member of the group I serve, that I cannot represent their interests.

The third unintended consequence of the judge’s ruling is an open season for law firms at taxpayer expense. Shenkman and Hughes of Malibu and the R. Rex Parris Law Firm, run by Lancaster Mayor Rex Parris, will be awarded millions of the taxpayers’ money should their arguments prevail.

Naturally, smelling a huge windfall, these firms are applying this same legal template again and again — hence the filings against the city, COC and Sulphur Springs.

Fourth, the lawsuit ruling raises the question as to how small must a district be to ensure minority representation. Voting Act Section 14028 (b) states, "The occurrence of racially polarized voting shall be determined from examining results of elections in which at least one candidate is a member of a protected class or elections involving ballot measures. ..."

How small must one create a district to ensure that each minority or protected class has a representative elected? How many thousands of new officials does that mean we must elect?

Reviewing demographic data, I do not find any racial groups concentrated in specific areas or districts in Palmdale, Lancaster or Santa Clarita to make the intent of the Voting Rights Act effective.

That means that voting by distract will have no impact.

The final unintended consequence of the ruling is that the influential local political machines, i.e., the Santa Clarita Republican leadership, commandeered by a handful of wealthy businessmen and attorneys, will see their power diminished.

The "usual characters" impact Republican votes by sitting on virtually every local board, major non-profit, business organization, and conservative election and re-election committee.

Their political contributions are consolidated and the little guy can’t compete with their massive mailers, hit pieces, and far-reaching influence.

But if voters are divided into districts, influence and money can only be spread so thin.

Maybe this final unintended consequence makes the ruling a benefit, after all.

Jonathan Kraut owns a private investigations firm and serves in the Democratic Party of the SCV and on the SCV Interfaith Council. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal or other organizations.


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