Forgotten Local Elections, Unforgettable Consequences
Thanks to California’s ridiculous policy of mailing ballots to voters a full month prior to election day, and allowing “early voting,” I have already completed and submitted my ballot. That was a mistake.
After voting for a local school board candidate who I had some familiarity with and thought might be a safe choice, I learned that he was endorsed by the local chapter of the California Teachers Association, as well as by the local chapter of the California School Employees Association. I now regret giving this candidate my vote.
As for the seven judicial candidates that appeared on my ballot, along with the candidates for the local parks and recreation district, and the candidates for the local community college district, I had no idea who any of these people were and cast no vote. I was able to get enough information on the local bond and tax proposals, and was able to cast an informed vote against them all.
It wouldn’t be fair to suggest that as a responsible voter I am obligated to learn enough about these candidates to make a judgement about them and vote accordingly. Even if I could do that, what would be the point? Hardly anyone else will do that work so it won’t matter. These candidates win because they are recruited and supported by a cadre of insiders who vote for them, and they get elected. Sometimes they’re the right people for the job, and most of the time, here in California, they’re not.
A few inquiries I made with the organizations that might offer a voter guide for local candidates revealed it is beyond their current capacities. The county Republican party can’t do it. The regional taxpayers association can’t do it. In both cases, they’re focused on up-ticket races and major local tax and bond measures. There’s no time for everything else. This presents a problem.
The people who get elected to small town city councils, local agencies such as a parks and recreation district, are the people running most of the governing budgets in California. Public spending is decentralized in California, with local government expenditures roughly 60 percent of total state and local spending. The only organizations that wield sufficient resources to select and support thousands of local candidates are government employee unions, which for obvious reasons also have a strong incentive to find candidates they know they’ll be able to “negotiate” with for more staff, more pay, and more benefits.
There’s more. These successful candidates for local elected positions constitute the farm team for those politicians that eventually advance to major positions of responsibility, running large cities and populating the state legislature. Whatever special interests succeed in developing a huge pool of experienced local politicians will have that many more choices when selecting talented and obedient candidates to anoint to rise to the next level.
The same can be said of judicial nominees. If they are picked and supported by special interest insiders, then only these curated candidates will be elected to form the pool of talent from which higher court appointments will be granted. When you stack the deck, you’re more likely to draw the cards you want. This is reflected in what kind of judges preside over our superior courts and on the federal circuit courts.
Forgettable candidates in insignificant elections lead to unforgettable and very significant consequences. Providing a voter guide for them could be done if state taxpayer organizations and the state Republican party were to create an instructional document and then support their counterparts in California’s counties to implement it.
It is no small task. The California Secretary of State maintains the “California Roster,” updated every two years, that lists every elected official in the state. There are thousands of names on the list. But most of them only come up for election every four years, and in all but the very largest counties in California, the number of candidates is manageable.
Investigating these candidates could be done by a team of volunteers, supported by the county Republican party or the regional taxpayers association, or by both working together. These volunteers would gather information on each candidate using many of the same techniques that businesses employ when doing a background check. They could search for their names online to learn their professional and educational history. They could access their credit history. They could check all of their social media accounts. They could go to the county clerk’s office and get information on who is donating to their campaigns. In most cases, a useful profile could be developed without a huge expenditure of time and resources.
Once profiles of local candidates were compiled, it would be usually be possible to identify whether they were owned by local public employee unions, or were environmentalist extremists, or woke ideologues, and if so, voters could be warned to not support them for judicial posts, or board positions at local special districts, or for school boards. Voters would undoubtedly find this useful.
It has never been easier to make voter information of this nature accessible to whoever needs it. Most volunteers with internet experience can create a post or a page that provides the local candidate recommendations, then put it onto a preexisting party or association website. By promoting these recommendations via links sent in emails, a certain exclusivity of access is retained at the same time as a concentrated mass of select voters is empowered to make informed votes for or against every local candidate. In forgettable races with forgettable candidates, a surge of votes in one direction or another will swing the result.
This is an opportunity that should not be squandered any longer. Local government agencies spend most of the tax dollars in California. Local judges and local elected officials are the farm team for more significant judicial appointments and more powerful elected offices.
Just because we ignore local candidates does not mean those candidates, once they take office, are ignoring us. It is time for activist organizations to add this service to their repertoire, and help us find the rising stars we want to rise, to help secure our future.
This article originally appeared in the Epoch Times.
Edward Ring is a contributing editor and senior fellow with the California Policy Center, which he co-founded in 2013 and served as its first president. He is also a senior fellow with the Center for American Greatness, and a regular contributor to the California Globe. His work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Economist, Forbes, and other media outlets.
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