Thursday, April 22, 2010

San Mateo County Supervisors Election articles

Should San Mateo County Supervisors be elected by district, or on an at-large basis? -
District election idea moves forward

People think there's something fishy about the way the San Mateo County Democrats endorsed April Vargas for County Supervisor -
Democrat asks for endorsement re-do

Posted by Steve Sinai


Kathy Meeh said...

All other counties in California elect their Supervisors by district. Only San Mateo County elects Supervisors at large for whatever that's worth.

ian butler said...

Can anyone articulate any advantage that at-large elections afford us? I can't think of any, except that they help keep the moneyed, entrenched interests in power, if you can call that an advantage.

It's like having the entire country choose each state's governor, or the entire state choose each district's congressional representative.

To me it boils down to this: who best knows what we want and need, voters within our district, or voters outside of our district? The answer seems obvious, but if someone has a different view I would like to hear it.

Steve Sinai said...

I met Don Horsley a few months ago and asked him about this. I took it for granted that everyone would prefer district-wide, as opposed to at-large elections, so I was surprised when he said he supported at-large elections.

I vaguely recall that his answer was something like - most issues the county deals with are San Mateo County vs. the state, or San Mateo County vs. some outside organization, and if we went to district elections, the supervisors would start focusing their attention on fighting each other for pork for their districts, rather than working together when faced with challenges from the state or outside organizations. He felt district elections would turn supervisors into competitors, rather than people who cooperated to solve the county's problems.

Horsley didn't actually use terms like "pork, "vs.," and "fight." I'm just using them because they relay the gist of the message as I recall it.

I'm still not sure I'm totally persuaded, but I thought he made some good points, and in listening to him I was impressed that he had at least thought the issue through.

ian butler said...

Let us keep in mind that Don happens to be the person who benefits the most from keeping the system as it stands, because he has the most money to spend on a county-wide campaign. That money comes largely from interests outside of the district, and much of it from outside of the state.

Thanks Steve for sharing what Don told you. It's enlightening to hear the argument used to promote business as usual, but it should be taken with a grain of salt.

Scotty said...

Ad Hominem is an argument which links the validity of a premise to a characteristic or belief of the person advocating the premise.

Kathy Meeh said...

Whether the county supervisor will remain at large or by region will be determined by the County Supervisor Board soon.

Meantime, the choice of county supervisor candidate seem clear enough to me. 1) Don Horsley was helpful in supporting and keeping Sharp Park Golf Course. He made phone calls and such to key officials. Whereas, 2) April Vargas was unclear whether she could support keeping Sharp Park Golf Course or not, as of March 20, 2010-- one month ago.

Ian, do you know where most money to support Don Horsley's campaign comes from? An article I read said he's been preparing for two years.

Actually the high cost for a candidate to campaign for supervisor in the entire county is a financial reason to change to the regional election system. An alternative is to continue to support the clean money campaign to remove most of the campaign cost for candidates (hence campaigns would be fairly supported by tax payers-- that works for me).

Glad Steve specifically spoke with Don Horsley about this "at large" countywide representation issue. Other side of that argument as mentioned prior is that currently all other counties in California have now changed to regional supervisor representation. Wonder how that's working? Don's comments may come from an updated informed view.

Steve Sinai said...

"Thanks Steve for sharing what Don told you. It's enlightening to hear the argument used to promote business as usual, but it should be taken with a grain of salt."

That was one of the reasons I wasn't totally persuaded, as mentioned before. Still, I remember at the time that I thought he did a respectable job of presenting the case for at-large elections. I got the sense that he actually believed what he was saying, which unfortunately, is somewhat rare these days.

I think the main problem I'm having is that I just don't know what the hell county supervisors do, so it's hard to judge arguments about how they can best be elected. I'll study up before the primary.

ian butler said...

In digging about for information I came across this Bruce Balshone article which includes a well reasoned rebuttal to the argument made by Horsley.

It appears that at-large elections may even be unconstitutional, because they take away minority communities' ability to choose their own representatives.

Kathy Meeh said...

Ian, thanks for link leading to San Mateo County Board of Supervisors website, linking to the Charter Review (citizen) Committee discussion regarding Supervisor elections and representation. 2:10 hours worth sitting through.

Steve brought-up the essential question, what does a County Board of Supervisor do? One Committee member referred to the Board of Supervisors as that of a "Council", so the function is that of a county oversight body or council. Compare: a city has a council, as does a county.

San Mateo county is organized under a State constitutional Charter form of government, which allows Supervisors to be elected 1) at large, 2) by region, 3) at large with regional representation. The form of representation San Mateo county has adopted is 3) at large with regional representation. A challenge to this form of representation has come before voters 2x in the past (1978, 1980) and has been defeated in favor of the existing representation.

After much discussion the committee recommendation to the Board of Supervisors was something to the effect: 1) 11-4 we personally agree with the existing governing system (it works), but 2) after 30 years of not being challenged we think the voters should have the ballot option to review "validate or modify" these choices, namely option 2) regional.

In discussion the point was made that no system is perfect. Some problems exist outside the Charter. Comments included the necessity for election finance reform, proportional representation, census restructuring of districts, transparency. Reference was made to Grand Jury concerns about discriminatory practices, which this committee generally deemed rare.

Kathy Meeh said...

Comment: Interesting how this and other blog discussions lead to tag-team fact discovery when people contribute "something".

From this exercise, we learned that "at large" election of Supervisors in this county actually includes a viable "regional" component. Funny thing, several months back a friend called the County to speak to a "generic" Supervisor and was referred specifically to the District 3 (our) Supervisor. Unified response: "that's interesting". Still I did not connect the "oh that's what that's about" until this discussion surfaced.