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Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Divide and Conquer is a Risky Strategy for the Council

One of the first lessons that my political mentor taught me a long time ago when I first got involved in politics was to avoid too many polarizing issues. He drew it out for me on a chalkboard quite clearly. You may take the majority position on each issue, but you will anger a different constituency as well. You may win on each issue, but at the end of the day those constituencies may add up to over 50%.

When the council took on the HRC and the police issue, it seemed that a majority of people were on their side. But these were very contentious issues and they angered a number of constituents who may have been with them on growth and development issues. Likewise the Target issue did not just anger the progressives who normally oppose the Council majority, but also it angered small business owners, particularly in the downtown. So while they might have had the barest of majorities support Measure K, they may have mobilized a powerful new constituency against them who will join forces with the progressives to work to oust them in 2008.

That brings me to yet another constituency that may be in the process of being mobilized against the council. The issue of the merger of the Senior Citizen Commission has angered many seniors. We’ve covered this issue a few times as it has developed. Overall the community seems indifferent to the issue of the merger of the Senior Citizen Commission with the Social Services Commission. However, one group that is angry is a group that has not generally asserted itself in Davis nor have they generally sided with the progressives. The council may once again have the majority that can get this through the council, but they may in turn mobilize another group against them.

The chair of the Senior Citizens commission Elaine Roberts Musser writes:
If council members are concerned about the tone of the conversation in the community, it is comments such as those aforementioned that get seniors' blood boiling. They know full well when they are being had... A total of 138 outraged seniors want their commission to be left alone to do its business — advancing the interests of Davis seniors.
That may not seem like a large number, but it probably speaks for a larger group. Small numbers of voters who change their loyalties in an evenly divided town could be pivotal in swinging an election.

As we wrote a few weeks ago, we were unimpressed with the reasoning behind the move. Musser was not either.
Councilman Stephen Souza claims, "By combining the power of both bodies, you wind up with a more powerful body and focus ..." What you really end up with is shortchanging constituencies of both the Senior Citizens Commission and the Social Services Commission, focusing away from seniors in particular.
Further she takes exception to the notion of making the Senior Citizens a subcommittee, since many are not able to drive at night and would not be able to attend the new commissions meetings which occur after dark.
I was also very troubled by a comment Mayor Pro Tem Ruth Asmundson made at the Oct. 24 City Council meeting. There was an indication that if seniors were not able to meet in the evening, then they could join a standing subcommittee. Why should seniors be relegated to subcommittee status, just because they cannot drive at night?
The Council majority may once again have the support both on the council itself and in the community to prevail on this issue. But at some point they will have polarized so many people, that they may have polarized themselves right out of power.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting