Dave Bultena: Turlock, Merced council districts won’t guarantee good governance

The recent editorial comments in The Modesto Bee and Merced Sun-Star calling for Turlock and Merced to be divided into council districts to give better representation to minorities in city elections overlook several potential issues.

First, it is noted that Measure A in Turlock and Measure T in Merced are all but done deals – regardless of the results of the elections. If both or either of the measures fail, litigation and its costs can be expected and that litigation ultimately will result in favor of elections for council by district. As such, the measures are not ballot options but referendums – if not ultimatums.

Assuming council districts are approved by voters, that does not guarantee representation will be any better than it is now.

We are all familiar with politicians on the state, federal and local levels moving from one district to another in order to keep their names in the political arena and to continue to garner votes. Who is to say similar movements by local politicians between city districts would not yield the same results. There might be no change in the makeup of the city councils.

The establishment of residency for political purposes is an ongoing occurrence and isn’t all that difficult to achieve.

Most troubling in the district concept is the idea that only minorities can represent minorities. This speaks poorly of elected officials and is telling society that representative government is a myth.

Minority interests could be enhanced if more minorities took out papers to run for public office. It usually works best when minority candidates have the backing of the minority community. The editorial noted that Merced has a 49 percent Latino population. With that kind of base, the “lack of representation” ball falls squarely in the Latino community’s court.

But what happens when a minority district elects a nonminority candidate? In fact, we don’t even know what a minority is anymore. With 49 percent of the population, Latinos in Merced are the largest single ethnic group. That leaves 51 percent of the population to represent Caucasians, African-Americans, Asians, Pacific Islanders, Native Americans and others.

This minority representation thing is leading our political system into a Balkanized system that has few positive attributes. We elected a black president, Los Angeles had a black mayor for many years, minority members of Congress are now common. Locally, Merced has had a black mayor, which shows electing minorities can be done within the existing system.

One of the unanswered questions, especially as to the Turlock and Merced areas, is what damage – if any – has been done by not having minorities on the city’s respective councils.

I wonder if district elections in cities such as Merced, where 49 percent of the electorate is one ethnicity, will actually result in any differences in overall governance from what we would have achieved through the current at-large elections?

We will always have unrepresented constituencies regardless of the election process. It’s a fallacy to think ethnicity and political ideology always overlap.