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Real Election Reform
by Simba Kenyatta
Sunday May 18th, 2014 7:51 PM
Time to Consider True Election Reform
As a former city council candidate and as a poor, African American, my view of campaign finance reform is markedly different than what I hear is going to be proposed. I think that there should be no private money in public elections, at all. The city needs to come up with a way to finance our elections so that every candidate starts out with the same amount of money, and no more. Of course, the first reaction will be, we can't afford that, and our budget won't allow it. Well, I think we can't afford not to. Middle class people tend to have middle class friends, poor people tend to have poor friends, and there, is where the problem lies. Just because you put a ceiling on the amount of money doesn't do anything for people having a hard time raising any money because their friends and neighbors are as poor as the candidate, and raising money is much harder no matter how viable you might be as a candidate.

We will have to be creative in financing the elections. I've often thought a quarter of a cent city tax on businesses would bring in enough money to finance it. I'm sure businesses will object but it would be a minor inconvenience, to support an actual democracy. They can pass that tax on to us because as a concerned citizenry we want to see the best candidates available, even if they are horrible at raising money. Sometimes as a candidate it felt way too close to begging. It would be nice to see businesses/corporations contribute toward a democracy instead of destroying it, as recent court rulings will allow them to do. I'm sure we have enough intelligent, forward thinking people to come up with a way to ensure equality in our electoral processes. Where there's a will, there is a way.

The other election problem is at-large elections. I know damn well we will never have another Latino city council member as long as long as there are at-large elections. Nor will we ever see a poor person elected to our all- white, largely middle class city council. We must institute district elections as soon as possible if we want to have a city council that represents everyone. Every last one of us should feel that we have a stake in our city government, that our voices and our needs count. That is not the case now and, truthfully, it never has been. Santa Cruz has never elected an African American and has had two, maybe three Latinos it its history. That's shameful, this is 2014, for gods' sake! I don't expect that district elections will be acted upon anytime soon, because it doesn't serve Santa Cruz's power structure to expand the candidate pool. However, after reading the United States Supreme Court's ruling on Watsonville's suit to institute district elections, I think there may be a way to light a fire under the city councils asses to get district elections on their agenda sooner, rather than later.

I hope you take this missive to heart and take the time to seriously consider my proposals. My only interest is to see Santa Cruz become a model for other cities to follow, by making sure our whole populace feels represented. Having a stake in the outcome of elections because you have a candidate or an elected official that represents you, stimulates civic participation. And, after all, isn't that the outcome for which we're striving.

Simba Kenyatta is the Chairman of the Steering Committee for the Santa Cruz County Community Coalition to Overcome Racism.