Matthew Owen is running for City Council Member for Eureka’s Second Ward as, coincidentally, am I.
We disagree on quite a bit even though we both have been active Associate Members of the Humboldt County Democratic Central Committee (HCDCC).
Basically Matthew will say the system “ain’t broke” while I’ll agree with Bob and Pam Service that we have a local democratic crisis.
Mr. Owens believes there is wisdom in the current system because it will help distinguish the lazy from the non-lazy candidate. Seriously, laziness is a recurring theme in local right-of-center politics and from a recent pre-election conversation with Matthew, not to mention his latest post, it appears this will be another election cycle with this talking point.
But laziness aside, let’s look at the repeated contention that a True Ward system means 80% Discrimination. First of all, I don’t think Matthew is clear on the concept of discrimination. Discrimination is on/off. Either you are discriminated against or you’re not, there is no such thing as being partially discriminated against.
Matthew’s argument, from his post, is this…
You would not have any say (vote) for the City Council candidates in the other four wards. In other words, for each Eureka City Council election only 20% of the voters (one out of five wards) would have a say and 80% of the voters would be discriminated against.
Which simply doesn’t make any sense. Do you feel 99.9977%* discriminated against as us Humboldtians who have voted for Congressman Jared Huffman don’t have a say in the rest of the 434 Congressional Districts?
Matthew is playing the victim here when he is actually one of the ones with more power (or in this case representation). What Mr. Owen and those that use the spurious argument of “don’t fix what ain’t broke” won’t tell you is the “At Large” system is clearly about … maintaining power. Yes, maintaining 80% more power for those people who will vote more often. These voters are people who tend to own property, tend to have a stable life, tend to be older and better educated, tend to pay attention to local issues and might even have a financial stake in how the elections go. These are also people who tend to live in the more affluent parts of town which include (generally) most of the Forth and those parts of the 5th and 3rd that approach Henderson center. These are the people who tend to vote the way Matthew and those that will support him vote – trending conservative and Republican.
That is what is at stake here. It is about democracy. Neither Matthew nor I are fans of “exclusion in the Democratic (sic) process“, but I would argue that Matthew isn’t being honest in his definition of democracy when he concludes that the True Ward system isn’t clearly more democratic.
The local system is in crises as evidenced by the lack of candidates, especially those with left-of-center views that do not have easy access to critical political infrastructure such as cash from local businesses or for that matter, high profile property for signs. The result is less choice in elections and lower rates of participation as people appropriately feel disenfranchised.
The True Ward system is an exciting addition to November’s ballot and I’m hopeful that Matthew, John Fullerton (announced candidate for the Fourth Ward), and I (and hopefully one more candidate) will have a honest and informative debate on why we hold the views we do. Who knows, maybe a genuine debate will help spur interest sparking a trend of more public participation in local elections.
* 100%-1/435 where 435 = the number of Representatives in the United States House of Representatives.