Taking Racism Out of City Elections
By-District Choices Cure Denial of Rights to Latino Citizens
Gerry DeWitt reminds me of Rip Van Winkle; he slept for 20 years and woke up to a new world. Poor Gerry. Gerry slept when the Santa Barbara City Council perpetuated the racism that has existed in this town for 40 years. There has been a long line of white, smug, “I will take care of you little people” City Council members who have ignored the Voting Rights Act of 1965. This federal law was passed to stop the abuses of local governments manipulating the voting process to deny blacks access to representative government of their choice. The State of California adopted its own Voting Rights Act in 2001, but that did nothing to stop the unconstitutional abuses in California cities, including our little paradise of Santa Barbara. Gerry slept when the council ignored the 2007 Grand Jury which told the council it needed to follow the law and go to district elections to cure the denial of rights to its Latino citizens.
So we come to the present day, with the “Gerrys” of the world wringing their hands, screaming woe is us that the lawyers caused this terrible situation. Well Gerry, ask yourself: Who was going to get local governments to set aside their racist ways and change? Certainly not the U.S. Attorney General’s Office; it acted in Selma 50 years ago, but that was of no help for California minorities. The California Legislature wanted this act as an enforcement method that was fair, but it added some teeth and a penalty for failing to act. When the Legislature passed the California Voting Rights Act, it established a process allowing private lawyers, acting like private attorneys general, to represent minority plaintiffs to sue to enforce the law.
Gerry, please rub the sand out of your eyes: Santa Barbara was not the first governmental entity to get pushed by lawyers for change; it was the 17th. Yes, city councils (and school districts) all over the state have been forced to give Latino citizens their rights. When we confronted this council with the fact that our experts will testify to the racial polarization and that the council had better change the system, we were rebuffed. We virtually begged the council to do what was right and not incur the cost of being forced to follow the law, but it refused and stalled. Palmdale wasted $3 million dollars losing a protracted battle.
At least the Santa Barbara City Council hired experts who advised it early on. Lo and behold, after the council’s experts told it the process had to change, the council decided to settle. Why? Because the city clearly was violating the law. A judge would have found it, and the fees after a trial would have been $2 million-$3 million. The Legislature intended that cities act to recast their racist systems. Any city council member who refused to follow the law, and caused a city to incur several million dollars unreasonably, would be tossed out of office in the next election for allowing that to occur. While the Santa Barbara City Council did not act as quickly as it should have, at least it did finally follow the law. Kudos to the new City Attorney who saw the gorilla in the room: that the council would have lost a trial attempting to perpetuate a racist system and cost the city millions in the process.
Finally, credit to Gerry who at least had the courage to put his name on his opinions, wrong though they may be. Many cowards choose instead to hide under their hoods of “anonymous” and pour their race hate out in the blogs and comment sections of various websites. Blame the Mexicans, blame the lawyers, spew hatred, stir anarchy to ignore the law. If anyone needs proof of the racist mentality that pervades many in this town, just read these “anonymous” comments. My firm is proud of forcing this change, although I would have greatly preferred the council doing it when we first asked, and it would have been free. But Gerry, like you when you were on the council, the council was blind or lacked the fortitude to do what needed to be done, and they needed some persuasion. Thank the Legislature for enacting the law and allowing private lawyers to enforce it; don’t condemn it and perpetuate the racism.