Why in the world would the City Council revive the oft-rejected notion of merging our nonpartisan local elections with the partisan races for national office? Voters most recently gave this ill-conceived idea the thumbs-down in just 2015. The Independent was among the many voices of sanity endorsing the rejection of this clearly partisan power-grab at that time. Then, just last year, the council tried to sneak it in the back door through the court decision mandating district elections. The plaintiffs in that case wisely refused to endorse the move, and it died.
What has changed in the few months since that the mayor would put us through the expense and effort of yet another election on the same, unchanged subject?
I hope that the Independent will reprint its endorsement from the 2015 election. It clearly stated why moving local elections to even years was, and is, simply a bad idea. The only argument for such a move is that turnout is higher for national elections. That is a valid point — but if people aren’t interested in the local issues aired and debated during local campaigns currently, why would they pay any more attention to these issues during a national election?
The answer is, they would not. In fact, those local issues would be buried and likely disappear in the context of a national election. Voters would most likely simply vote for the candidate appearing on the party mailer alongside their national and state choices. In other words, they would vote for the candidate endorsed by their party. Parties would gain even more control than they already have over our supposedly nonpartisan local elections. And that is why the partisans really keep bringing this stale idea back up.
Let the council know now that we do not need another election on this subject. Is their plan to simply keep putting it on the ballot until it finally passes? Such an attitude shows utter contempt for the voters’ clearly stated desire, as well as that of the plaintiffs in the district election suit.
Please, Madam Mayor, don’t put us through this again. Please, accept what the voters have said repeatedly, and work instead to find ways to engage more community members in the local issues and discussions that most directly affect their lives. Don’t just shut those discussions down and turn the decision-making over to Party Central Committees.
There may be fewer of us engaged in those local discussions than in a media-driven national election, but at least our vote is based on those discussions — not on who is running for president.
Gerry DeWitt was a Santa Barbara city councilmember from 1981-1993.
Editor’s Note: This letter was changed on May 3. DeWitt had written to say that it was not Mayor Cathy Murillo who revived even-year elections, as he originally stated. The City Attorney proposed it, and the mayor and City Council supported it.