Time to talk district elections

City Council candidates should weigh in on fairer election process

During this election season, we want to encourage the candidates for Chico City Council to discuss a local nonpartisan group’s push for districting. For the uninitiated, there is a proposal calling for the city to be carved into seven districts, each with its own council seat (much like the Board of Supervisors).

The group, Districts for Chico, notes that the current citywide elections are prohibitively expensive for many candidates. They are also extremely partisan. As a result, there’s a lack of diversity and moderate representation on the panel. That’s because the only viable candidates are those who identify as either conservative (the majority for the past two years) or progressive. Being branded a right-winger or a leftie is the only way to fundraise adequately.

Case in point: Two years ago, newcomer Reanette Fillmer handily beat better qualified challengers. She did so by aligning herself with the conservative community and raising more than any other candidate, a whopping $47,000.

This year, the four incumbents are way ahead of the game when it comes to fundraising. Vice Mayor Sean Morgan, a conservative, has already taken in upward of $24,000, according to campaign disclosure statements filed with the City Clerk’s Office. He’s been building his war chest for more than a year, kicking things off with his so-called “Re-Election Round-Up” last July (see “Buzz-cut barbecue,” Second & Flume, July 30, 2015). Meanwhile, the coffers of the remaining three incumbents, all left-leaning, are somewhere in the $5,000 to $6,000 range.

For those just jumping into the race, that’s a lot of ground to make up (see Howard Hardee’s report on page 10). In fact, for those who aren’t well-connected, it’s an insurmountable obstacle. Districts would level the playing field as candidates would have to campaign only within their own boundaries. There are a number of other reasons to switch to this election process, and they are worth talking about.

The City Council had a chance to agendize discussion on the subject last fall. However, a majority shot down that idea. To her credit, Fillmer was in favor of learning more about the proposal. Out of the four members whose seats are up for grabs in November, only Tami Ritter voted to place it on the agenda. Heading into the general election, we cannot think of a better time to revisit this issue and put it up for substantive debate.