This year’s wedge issue

Should students vote in council elections? Conservatives say no

Every good election needs a sharp wedge issue to liven it up, and this year’s City Council race seems to have gotten one, thanks to Stephanie Taber.

Taber, a member of the local Tea Party group, is the campaign treasurer for City Council candidate Bob Kromer. As we reported last week, she’s sent a letter to City Clerk Debbie Presson stating an intention to circulate a petition to put a measure on an upcoming ballot to change City Council elections from November to June.

Most college students are gone then. And, as we learned last October, when the group Concerned Citizens of Chico submitted its grossly unscientific “survey” to the council, a lot of Chicoans would be happy if students weren’t able to vote here. Thus the wedge.

At a council candidates’ forum Friday (Aug. 20), supporters of the effort—including candidates Mark Sorensen, Bob Evans and Kromer—argued it would give the council race more visibility by amalgamating it with other local elections (for sheriff, district attorney, supervisors, etc.). These contests tend to get overshadowed by bigger contests in November, especially in presidential-election years, they said.

Other candidates weren’t buying it. As incumbent Mary Flynn put it, the proposal was “a thinly disguised effort to disenfranchise students—led, ironically, by a Tea Party patriot.”

The fact of the matter: Students have little electoral impact locally. Their turnout is historically low, though certain candidates have succeeded in energizing them—Barack Obama in 2008, for example. But even then they voted only lightly for City Council candidates.

The underlying reason for the proposed switch, I believe, is that Democrats don’t turn out for the June primary the way Republicans do—as conservative Councilman Larry Wahl discovered this June, when he shocked just about everyone but his wife by beating long-time county Supervisor Jane Dolan. Conservatives want to take back the council, and they see this as a way to do it.

In fact, changing the election date serves no practical—as opposed to political—purpose. The other local races are held in June because they may require a November runoff, but that’s not so with council elections. If they were held in June, any losing incumbent would face being a lame duck for six months—not a useful or pleasant situation by any means.

Commenting on a comment: In his Guest Comment, Paul Weber offers a detailed rebuttal of some of the arguments made in Leslie Layton’s Aug. 12 cover story, “The new segregation.” (See links above.)

Mr. Weber deserves to have his say unimpeded. But I want to respond to argument No. 8, in which he seems to conflate Layton’s perspective with that of the CN&R.

Let me be clear: This was her project, done as a collaboration among, New American Media and the CN&R. We consulted with her, and we think she did an extraordinary job, but we certainly didn’t tell her what to say. We have too much respect for her and the practice of journalism to do that.