On Tuesday January 21, Benicia’s City Council will consider a proposal to change our electoral process from At-Large voting for Council candidates to four newly-defined small geographical districts. Benicia citizens need to pay attention to this – it may sound ok, but consider…
I think our ability to join forces against the massive and mean-spirited outside corporate influences we saw in our 2018 election would be immeasurably weakened by adoption of district voting.
In 2018, a PAC funded by Valero Services and organized labor spent over $200,000 to smear and defeat Council candidate Kari Birdseye. (See below for background.) A similar campaign was waged against candidate Elizabeth Patterson in 2007.
A Council campaign funded and run in a small Benicia district would not be capable of standing up to limitless corporate PAC money. And Benicia is way too small to be divided into four districts capable of finding and supporting multiple competitive candidates across the political spectrum.
In many cities, district voting makes sense as a measure to strengthen and empower concentrated minority groups. Note that I am decidedly in FAVOR of empowering minority voting strength, especially when it comes to racial and ethnic minorities. Most of us would agree. But Benicia’s racial and ethnic mix is not concentrated in any linear district – so district voting would do absolutely nothing to advance minority voting strength.
What about other sub-groups in geographically defined parts of Benicia?
Our Southampton hills 1) is already represented by Mr. Largaespada, 2) could have elected Kari Birdseye as a Southampton neighbor if she hadn’t been targeted and smeared, and 3) had Mark Hughes as a resident Council member for years. I’m guessing Southampton probably had a few more Council members going back before my time.
A case CAN probably be made that Benicia’s East Side has been underrepresented over the years – but district voting would create more problems than it would fix for Eastsiders. IMPORTANT: How could an underfunded campaign in a smaller population on the East side possibly put up a fight against Valero and organized labor?!
CORRECTION: A kind reader has pointed out that current Council member Tom Campbell lives on Benicia’s East side. Campbell and former Council member Jan Cox-Golovich live in a section of town north of Military and just EAST of an imaginary First Street dividing line.
MY CONCLUSION: District voting would only give outside big money greater strength to stack our City Council.
Your voice is important!
BACKGROUND ON BENICIA’S 2018 CORPORATE SMEAR CAMPAIGN
- My background article on Jan 6, 2020 with quote from SF Chronicle, stating over $200,000 was spent by the Valero PAC. My comment: “Kari ran for City Council in 2018 in a field of 4, competing for 2 seats on Council. Only she didn’t just run against her opponents. She ran against a $200,000-plus smear campaign orchestrated by Benicia Valero Refinery and its friends in organized labor. The three major candidates’ campaigns spent less than $30,000 each, while Valero saturated our phone lines, mailboxes, newspapers and social media with misinformation and ugly photos.”
- My post-election call on Nov 12 2018 for Council action to reform campaign spending – including comparison of the $200,000 with candidate spending of under $30,000 each.
- My Oct 28 2018 article just before the Nov election which reported a smear campaign total of $155,000 as of that time. My comment in that article: “News broke in late September that a major worldwide corporate power had bullied its way into our local democratic process. Valero Services Inc., based in Texas but with 115 subsidiaries in Delaware, Michigan, Canada and several wealthy Caribbean nations, decided it wanted to buy a seat on the Benicia City Council. Their first strategy was to spend an unknown amount of money to employ two national firms, EMC Research and Research America, to conduct a nasty telephone “push poll,” blatantly mischaracterizing and demeaning one candidate for Council and painting rosy pictures of two others. When our City Attorney challenged the polling firms, Valero Refinery executive Don Wilson admitted that Valero paid for the poll, but neither he nor the polling firms would comply with our demands for more information.”
- Weekly and daily reporting of details as the smear campaign unfolded: benindy.wpengine.com/?s=birdseye