Uncontested elections in Contra Costa defeats democracy

uncontested election

Uncontested elections for offices in Contra Costa County appeared throughout the June 3 Primary ballot.

This sad circumstance begs the question…What’s the difference between the election to replace retiring George Miller in Congress compared to what goes on in the so called “democratic” systems of Russia, China, and Cuba?  The answer is very little.

These totalitarian regimes offer voters but one candidate that they can actually support without facing recrimination. In the local Congressional race State Senator Mark DeSaulnier D-Concord faces only token opposition from a retired Vietnamese immigration judge who has virtually no name recognition with the electorate nor chance to win.

Perhaps this observation is a bit harsh but if it walks like a duck, talks a duck, tastes like a duck, it ain’t a chicken nugget!

One would think after 40 years of having one individual holding a Congressional seat that the political process could do better than conducting what amounts to a coronation of DeSaulnier.   This is not his fault as office seekers do not have the responsibility for selecting opponents. The failure in this case is the Democratic and Republican parties who have skirted their obligations to offer voters different alternatives in the electoral process.

While Senator DeSaulnier was the clear choice to seek the open Congressional  seat, it is no secret that his two potential  opponents in the primary  Assemblywomen  Joan Buchanan and Susan Bonilla, both of whom have the financial ability to conduct a vigorous campaign, opted to sit out the race.  In doing this they decided to concentrate winning the election for DeSaulnier’s open Senate seat when he moves on to Washington D.C. next year.

Even with all three of these individuals holding similar liberal-progressive credentials, it’s a shame Democratic voters were not given even a small choice of who is  to replace George Miller.  This contrasts with the race a few years ago when DeSaulnier lost the Democratic Primary to John Garamendi who currently serves in Congress.

In that special election, DeSaulnier’s record of negotiating costly labor contracts with County workers while he was a Supervisor was a major issue as was Garamendi’s performance in State government.  What is important here is that voters at least had a choice.  This does not exist in the current congressional race.

On the Republican side of the ledger there were no prominent candidates who came forth to oppose DeSaulnier. Contra Costa District Attorney Mark Peterson, who has access to fundraising dollars, decided to take the safe course and stay out of the fray in order to run unopposed for another four year term as DA.

The responsibility for this sad state of affairs of uncontested elections rests squarely on the backs of the GOP. This is principally because there are no  elected Republican representatives from the region in the legislature and many of those who serve on city councils have renounced their affiliations opting instead to register as independents or Democrats.

The end result of uncontested electioons are the citizens of Contra Costa getting the shaft from the political system for which they have not a “choice but an echo”

The lack of Republican opposition can be found in other races as well where democratic incumbents run virtually unopposed for re-election.  Even though she raises money faster than the Koch Brothers can allegedly distribute it, Assemblywomen Susan Bonilla hasn’t had a credible opponent in at least 3 election cycles.  Again, it isn’t her fault but rather a failure of the political system to not offer voters any other choices.

Similar instances of apathy in the electoral process can be seen everywhere from Karen Mitchoff running in an uncontested election for her County Supervisorial  post to DeSaulnier’s  re-election to the State Senate in 2012 when no one challenged  him in a serious way.

As we have dealt with the failures to have contested political races, what happens in instances where voters are given clear choices at the ballet box when they cast their vote.  The poster child for what works best with American Democracy has been the contested primary in the 16th Assembly District to replace termed out Assemblywomen Joan Buchanan (D-Alamo)

The choices given voters were:

  • Steve Glazer, Vice-Mayor of Orinda and former campaign manager for Governor Jerry Brown who is also known for being a powerful lobbyist in Sacramento. He was supported by the California Real Estate Association whose media campaign focused on his opposition to public employees striking at Bart last year
  • Catharine Baker, Attorney- This Republican community activist from Dublin has no elective experience but unlike her opponents has expressed a reformist vision for changing the special interests dominated political culture in Sacramento. Her views most represented conservative voters in the district who have elected Republican candidates in the past.
  • Tim Sbranti– With strong financial support from teachers and transit worker unions, the Educator and current Mayor of Dublin was the clear choice of the progressives who are part of the Labor-Environmentalist-Entitlement Coalition that controls the County Democratic Party Central Committee
  • Newell Arnerich.   Lacking the funding from special interests to wage a strong media campaign against Tim Sbranti and Steve Glazer, the five times Mayor of Danville represented the element of suburbia who is not caught up in partisan politics. His campaign hinged on wining votes not only from his own supporters but also those who are turned off by the media wars between Glazer and Sbranti

We look at these choices as having done an excellent  job of representing the demographics of the 16th Assembly District. Even though Catharine Baker and Tim Sbranti  ended up as the winners, the true victors in this race was the electorate who had the opportunity make a choice between the various candidates.

This experience will be further enhanced when Baker and Sbranti face each other in the November run-off.  Let the games begin!

Those who cast ballots  in other races did not fare as well as they did not have an opportunity to express themselves. They had but one candidate to choose from to make their selection for a particular office.  Trying to differentiate  between this lack of choice in uncontested elections compared  to what goes on in Russia makes me really sad.

To order for our democratic system of government to be successful, it can never be taken for granted.  This includes the volunteers who worked the phone banks for Senator DeSaulnier at the Teacher’s Union headquarters  on Diamond Blvd in Concord, even though their candidate faced no real challenge.

These individuals should be commended for their dedication to getting their point of view expressed.  Unfortunately, they were staring into an empty canvas on election night.



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2 thoughts on “Uncontested elections in Contra Costa defeats democracy”

  1. It does take a lot of money to run a campaign but this is not the only criteria for the voters to make an informed decision. As an example we have Steve Glazer in the recent 16th District Assembly race who put out over a million dollars of advertising paid by the California Real Estate Association yet garnered less than 21% of the popular vote. This contrasted to Catharine Baker who spent 6 times less yet was the top vote getter at almost 36%.

    And let us not forget the startling loss in the GOP Congressional Primary in Virginia where Eric Kantor was defeated by an opponent who spent 25 times less.

    These examples are not an excuse for having campaign election reform which is badly needed but they do show there is a heartbeat left in American democracy.

  2. You might want to look at the impact of the sheer gross amount of money needed to run a competitive campaign as the real choking point in a campaign.

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