Beverly Hills Election, Some Lessons Learned

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BEVERLY HILLS, CA (robinsrowe.com) 2020/5/9 – I got to respond this week to some interesting questions from an author writing a book on why people participate in the United State’s political system…

What got you interested in politics and why did you decide to run in that particular race?

In the 2016 election, the top choice was between the candidate sponsored by big oil or the candidate sponsored by big banks, two of the most unpopular candidates to ever run for president.

After the disappointing election of 2016, I wanted to do something positive. I attended local meetings of a couple political parties. The meetings felt uncomfortably cliquish and polarized. The talk was about winning at all costs.

I reached out to our mayor in Beverly Hills, asked if there’s anything I can do as a citizen. I’m a technologist and live a few blocks from city hall. The mayor suggested I join the City of Beverly Hills Technology Committee, which I did. After four years serving on the committee, a couple City Council Members suggested I run for City Council in 2020, which I did.

Did the experience change your view of the political system or did it confirm beliefs you already had?

Both. The experience of running changed my view and confirmed some beliefs I already had.

Like many people, I’ve noticed our political system is broken somehow, that there’s something not right about politicians generally. I had not understood the extent and the reason big money is backing ignorant narcissists for office at all levels.

For the unscrupulous investor, it’s a good investment to pack city hall with politicians who will appoint the investors’ friends to be commissioners or direct the city to purchase services from the investors’ companies. Our government seems packed top-to-bottom with politicians sponsored by big money, politicians there to repay donors with favors.

The office of Beverly Hills City Council only pays $9k a year. However, it’s big money that the Council directs, a $250 million annual budget. In Beverly Hills, rich investors spent over $200,000 campaigning to keep the incumbents in office, to beat me.

Our city has 22,000 registered voters. The incumbents received 5,000 and 4,000 votes respectively. I received over 700 votes. Pretty good for an unknown first-time candidate like me, twice as many votes a campaign advisor would predict I’d get.

How does big money effect local politics? For a sunk cost of $200,000, the campaign for the incumbents (yes, they campaigned together) spent over $22 to get each vote. I don’t accept donations. My total campaign cost was $200. About 27 cents campaigning for each vote I got. The voters who backed me did so because they believe in what I can accomplish to improve the City, were not swayed by how many yard signs the incumbents’ street team pitched in everyone’s yards, including mine.

Did you face any barriers to getting on the ballot or any other disadvantages that other candidates may not have faced?

The City of Beverly Hills sued the Secretary of State to disqualify the vote before it happened. I was listed at position #1 on the ballot, won the lottery. The City Council declared it unfair that an incumbent had fallen last on the ballot. Had I won and the incumbent lost, I expect the City would have pursued their lawsuit to the bitter end to keep me out of office. Local officials have directed millions of taxpayer money into unwinnable lost lawsuits.

The City has spent $8 million, so far, on losing discrimination and police brutality lawsuits against our police department. Our chief of police resigned after the election. Many narratives have been offered. From being guilty of covering up the brutal crimes of her officers, being a sex maniac, being a homophobic racist, or maybe she was the police reformer she said she was and forced into being the scapegoat.

The Beverly Hills School Board is being sued for redirecting millions of dollars from the Beverly Hills High School building renovation fund into lost lawsuits and political lobbying.

We hear about a lot of problems with politics such as corporate lobbyists or gerrymandering, do you still still think political work is important to do?

Yes, I will run again in 2022.

Do you think the political system can be fixed or do we need systemic change?

There are a number of small reforms we can do to effect a big difference.

Vote-by-mail should be a citizen’s right. Voting at the ballot box is open to intimidation, hanging chads, tampering and voter suppression.

Term limits on all elected offices. Incumbency is by far the greatest advantage any politician has when running for office. Politicians should not be able to occupy the same office until death do us part, not be like Supreme Court judges.

Plus-or-Minus Voting. California is a Top-Two Voting system, with only two candidates on the ballot per seat. Third parties would prefer more candidates and a ranked-choice voting system, where voters don’t pick only a favorite but rank every candidate.

Ranked-Choice Voting may seem an improvement over Plurality Voting, but has issues. Most voters don’t know all the candidates well enough to decide how best to rank them all. Ranking is time-consuming, may tire voters and suppress voting. And what about voters who don’t like any of the candidates, how does ranking accommodate them?

Plus-or-Minus voting has each voter get to cast one vote, but it may be a negative or a positive vote. Avoids being forced into the dilemma of voting for the lesser-of-evils candidate. Enables voters to vote his or her conscience.

Increased voter participation. Being able to directly vote against a presidential candidate they detest using Plus-or-Minus Voting will draw voters who would otherwise abstain. Since most voters turn out primarily to vote for the president, greater voter participation means increased turnout for state and municipal candidates. Unlike Ranked-Choice, Plus-or-Minus is compatible with Top-Two Voting.

Require political endorsements to reveal conflicts of interest. When our local newspaper, for example, endorses the incumbents, that newspaper should also have to state that the incumbents have previously directed the over $1 million in City advertising to the newspaper during their term in office.

In directing the City’s budget, the incumbents may be the newspaper’s biggest customers. Likewise, when the local Chamber of Commerce endorses the incumbents, they should have to reveal that the incumbents have directed City money to support the Chamber.

Non-partisan ballots. In California, municipal elections are non-partisan. It doesn’t say on the ballot to which party a municipal candidate belongs. The logic is that at the municipal level, party shouldn’t be the deciding factor. Should it be for other offices? The ballot should not be a platform to advertise and endorse the parties. To vote party-line should take more effort than reading the choices on the ballot.

Prohibit voter disenfranchisement. All citizens should be urged to be good citizens, to vote. Those who have been convicted of committing crimes should have the opportunity to make up for past mistakes by becoming model citizens, not be made into outcasts.

Voting could be part of prisoner rehabilitation. Prisoners should be encouraged to vote-by-mail, even from prison, to begin the process of rejoining society. Feeling outcast pushes people toward crime.

There’s also the matter of voter justice. Those who were wrongfully convicted and later exonerated can never receive their voter justice. They permanently lost the years they were wrongfully denied the right to vote, in the 34 states that practice voter disenfranchisement.

That even one voter has been wrongfully disenfranchised is unacceptable.