An ongoing conversation about voter eligibility, voter registration, voter turnout and fistfuls of dollars
“…a key characteristic of a democracy is the continued responsiveness of the government to the preferences of its citizens, considered as political equals. …In a political system where nearly every adult may vote but where knowledge, wealth, social position, access to officials, and other resources are unequally distributed, who actually governs?” — Robert Dahl
Will the establishment of the new ninth district translate into a greater voice in civic affairs and political power for the minority populations who reside in the district? Will City Heights be ground zero for addressing the enormous gap between race and political power? I don’t think any of us living here think the path to democratic governance, and that’s what we are really talking about, will be an easy one.
The countervailing action to our vote is obviously the presence of obscene amounts of money combined with lobbying efforts that attempt to keep political power out of reach of the poor, working poor and a significant portion of the middle class.
In a prior column I wrote that “In the space of a few decades, City Heights residents became poorer, more culturally diverse as new waves of immigrants arrived from war torn corners of the globe, and transient. This is not the kind of electorate that keeps a close eye on the machinations of government, let alone influences it.” We now have a ninth district with a Latino majority and which also includes the refugee communities from the Horn of Africa, South East Asian immigrants, and African-Americans. White residents are in a minority. How do we make this new district an effective vehicle for economic and social justice for all of us residing here?
The stick we have at our disposal to whack the piñata of power is obviously the vote–whole blocks of potential votes– that may make our elective representatives take notice of us, instead of using us as a springboard to their election, only to institute a political agenda that ignores us afterward. The countervailing action to our vote is obviously the presence of obscene amounts of money combined with lobbying efforts that attempt to keep political power out of reach of the poor, working poor and a significant portion of the middle class.
Voter eligibility in City Heights does not resemble voter eligibility in Rancho Bernardo
Voter registration and voter turnout on a massive scale are essential to offset campaign contributions, Super PAC donations and dark money that will be pouring into local, state and national elections. Even voter eligibility itself becomes a significant issue in City Heights with its large immigrant and minority communities as well as our former felon population.
Voter eligibility in City Heights does not resemble voter eligibility in Rancho Bernardo. We have a large refugee and immigrant community with legal residency status, but legal residency status does not include the right to vote. There are also undocumented residents among us. It is hard to gauge how many of them are reflected in the 201o census data.
There is yet another group to consider whose members are ineligible to vote. They are our “DREAMers,” children who were brought into the country by their undocumented parents. These children grew up here, went to school here, work here and are married with children of their own. They pay taxes here, are woven into our community and this is the only home they know. How many of these kids are among us?
We are a community of the young, and if any group is voiceless, it’s children. We spend $47,000 per year to incarcerate our neighbors. We spend $8,908 per year in California to educate a child.
President Obama signed an executive order to stop deportations of these young people, “undocumented immigrants who came to the United States under the age of 16 and have lived in the country for at least five years…(and) are under the age of 30.” They can petition for legal status and work permits, but the order does not grant immunity nor amnesty, nor the right to vote.
City Heights is a community of the voiceless at the most basic level that includes legal non-citizen residents as well as the undocumented and our DREAMers. Will City Heights become a powerful, unified voice for comprehensive Immigration Reform and reject the Republican platform of self-deportation, their voter suppression efforts and racist state and local statutes?
We are a community of the young, and if any group is voiceless, it’s children. We spend $47,000 per year to incarcerate our neighbors. We spend $8,908 per year in California to educate a child. We have seen efforts to blame public school teachers and their unions for budget shortfalls while ignoring the grim impacts of Prop 13. We have seen budgets slashed for park and recreation facilities and activities. Library hours have been reduced as well as critical staff. Will City Heights reject the Grover Norquist no taxes ever anywhere pledge that has trickled down into state politics and into the local mayoral race of Carl DeMaio?
There are only a handful of districts in the City of San Diego (and they are all south of route 8) in which a discussion of voter empowerment requires a prologue about those who are not able to vote. Those of us who live in those districts have a tremendous amount at stake to make sure that the voiceless, the most powerless among us, are also represented. It makes all the difference in who actually governs–and how they will govern.
In the upcoming weeks, I will continue the conversation about voter registration, voter turnout and the fistfuls of dollars in City Heights. Tell me what you think.