Louis DeArcos served as mayor of Lincoln — the Placer County town I grew up in — 27 years before California’s Voting Rights Act of 2002 was passed by the state legislature.
How could that be since there is widespread discrimination — at least that is what the courts using the 2002 law have determined. It is the same law that is driving Manteca to consider abandoning at-large council elections to switch to district elections.
The law, in a nutshell, is a hammer to require cities and school districts to go to district elections if a complaint with proof is given that minorities aren’t getting fair representation in local government. The targeted group the law was inspired by were Hispanics with their lack of representation in local offices based proportionately on population.
As of 2014 Hispanics were the largest ethnic group in California with 39 percent of the population followed by Whites at 38.8 percent.
Manteca with 49.6 percent of the population being White and 36.68 percent Hispanic has no Hispanic council members. In fact, Manteca apparently has elected only two Hispanics in its 100 year history — Wayne Flores and Vince Hernandez. However, Manteca has a Punjabi American council member — Gary Singh — yet the ethnic group doesn’t even break out of the low single digits in Manteca’s population makeup.
The City Council at the same time under the driving rationale behind the 2002 state law is horribly out of balance when it comes to council members that are female. The city’s population is 52.4 percent female meaning two of Manteca’s four council members should be female. Equally disturbing from the perspective of the thinking of those who crafted the 2002 law should their reasoning by applied universally is the fact Manteca has only elected four women to the council during the last 100 years.
Less than 60 percent of Manteca’s households own their homes. Doesn’t that mean at least one of the four council members should be renters? They also all reside in homes that are less than 20 years old.
What about married versus non-married? Of the population above 15 years of age, only 49.6 percent are married. The rest have never been married (32.5%), divorced (10.8%), widowed (5.7%), or separated (1.4%). Based on the reasoning two of the council members should not be married although all four are.
Where is the California Legislature when it comes to giving women and non-married people who are clearly severely underrepresented not just at the local level by the state level as well as the tools needed to change the election process? If Manteca is going to hire a demographic consultant to cobble together districts that give an edge to Hispanics shouldn’t they also consider doing the same for the non-married as well as females?
And why does the switch to district elections rarely result in gains for Hispanics?
The answer may lie in socio-economics and not skin tone.
Vince Hernandez — and the late Wayne Flores — both are or were homeowners. Hernandez is a white collar professional and Flores was a correctional officer making him a blue collar worker. Both are or were integrated into segments of Manteca community life.
Could voters for the most part be color blind if they are comfortable with the views and values of candidates as defined by socio-economics?
Discrimination exists as does under representation of segments of society based on the difficulty to elect a candidate that reflects their needs and issues as it relates to local government via citywide elections in some jurisdictions. But it is not a universal problem. That’s why the 2002 law was crafted to require proof citywide votes created an insurmountable obstacle to minorities being elected. The courts, however, have reduced it to a simple litmus test — if a city’s population has “X” amount of an ethnic group and it is large enough they should be able to secure a seat if they all voted as a block then they should have ”X” amount of seats. If they don’t then the city is in violation of the 2002 law if they don’t have district elections and they’re not drawn up in such a manner to assure that underrepresented minority groups with significant numbers have at least a proportional representation.
The legislature should have done everyone a favor and had the guts to outright mandate district elections instead of adding language to the 2002 that made it sound as if retaining citywide elections was really going to be tolerated.
And while district elections as Manteca mayor hopeful Ben Cantu has pointed out can help assure council members aren’t clustered in one neighborhood, if the city fashions districts based on the 2002 law driven by ethic demographics as required by state law nothing will really change.
Yet if districts were formed using economic factors based on household income, you would have a greater chance of districts being created that may actually make sense in terms of “under represented” segments of the community.
But let’s be honest. The crafters of the 2002 law weren’t looking at socio-economic issues. They were looking at race.
Louis DeArcos, by the way, served in World War II, was active in the community, worked at McClellan Air Force Base and raised a family in a fixer up that he fixed. He was also married. When the people in Lincoln elected him they did not weigh his ethnic background as much as who he was as a person.
Now, why would anyone do that in a land called the United States of America?