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Tammy Messina: It is about ideology, not ethnicity

Posted: August 9, 2013 2:00 a.m.
Updated: August 9, 2013 2:00 a.m.
 

Two residents have filed lawsuits against local governing boards claiming "civil rights discrimination" and "denied voter access" in local elections.

One states, "Despite a Latino population of approximately 30 percent in the city of Santa Clarita, no Latino has ever been elected to Santa Clarita’s City Council."

Using the logic in these lawsuits, until I have Native American representation on each governing board, I’m being "denied voter access" and discriminated against.

Who knew?

According to the lawsuit, we need people of different color and/or ethnicity to ensure well-rounded representation. Why? Because people who happen to be the same color couldn’t possibly have diverse upbringings?

Or is it simply that someone who doesn’t look like me couldn’t possibly understand me and therefore couldn’t represent me?

What is the job of a governing body? To represent the people. Now, exactly how do they represent the people? In the way they look? Their ethnic background?

Or are they supposed to represent the way people think and believe and the way of life they want to establish for their families and their children and their children’s children?

Does color or ethnic background come into play here? Maybe. But should it be the primary issue? Definitely not.

In our governmental system, it’s majority rule. At the federal level, I’m seriously under-represented, but I’m well-represented at the local and state levels.

It’s a give and take. My representation, depending on where I have lived, hasn’t always been this favorable to me. It never crossed my mind to sue over it.

Let’s face it: With the current political divide, it’s a pretty safe bet that about 49 percent of the population isn’t going to be happy with the outcome of any given election.

At issue with the lawsuits are "at-large" elections. The Latino plaintiffs (there are only two) allege that they are not represented by the outcome of "at-large" elections due to a lack of Latino representation.

Are they saying that only Latinos can represent Latinos? Have 30 percent of the candidates been Latino? If they’re expecting proportionally balanced governing boards, it’s logical to expect that the candidate fields would also reflect that proportion.

The lawsuits infers that some Latino representation should be reflected on the at-large governing boards — given the 30 percent Latino population. But many factors other than ethnicity weigh into election outcomes, and that opens the door for all sorts of questions.

For instance: Are Latinos voting proportionally to other populations? Are Latinos voting for other Latinos, or are they supporting other non-Latino candidates?

Have previous Latino candidates launched and run viable campaigns (not just throwing a hat in the ring and seeing what happens)? Have previous Latino candidates been well known enough to garner the necessary votes?

For Latino candidates who’ve chosen to run for office, did voters consider them qualified to hold elected office?

Voters whom I know choose candidates based on skill set, experience, and/or a personal recommendation from a trusted source (family or friend). They don’t choose candidates based on race, color, or ethnicity.

The concern with these lawsuits is that two people claim their votes aren’t reflected in election outcomes. Two people don’t make a majority, neither can they presume to speak for 30 percent of the population.

The law is so loosely written that nearly any at-large election can be targeted with a lawsuit. The remedy is district-based elections.

But in the Santa Clarita Valley, the Latino population is fairly geographically disbursed with small pockets in a couple of areas. How will carving up districts help in that respect?

And then there’s the question of how the courts will establish whether or not "racially polarized voting" occurred here. The law says they will examine "results of elections."

But how will they know who voted for whom? And how will they determine ethnicity of the voters who cast the votes for specific candidates? I thought here in America we had secret ballots.

The federal Voting Rights Act Amendments of 1982 specifically states that nothing "establishes a right to have members of a protected class elected in numbers equal to their proportion in the population."

There is similar wording in the California law, but the added text regarding "at-large" elections has opened the door for attorneys to profit and citizens to pay.

Personally, as a voter I’d rather have five elected officials with whom I can ask questions and submit concerns. At least I’d have a fighting chance that one of them would listen.

With only one representative, it’s a 50/50 proposition depending upon the representative’s stance on the issue at hand.

Tammy Messina is a resident of Santa Clarita, a local business owner and a producer for "The Real Side Radio Show." She can be reached at tammy@therealside.com.

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