Friday, October 17, 2014

Failed recall's long-lasting impacts

Despite the low turnout – nearly 7 out of 10 registered voters didn't bother to mail in a ballot or visit a polling place – the failed attempt to recall two City Council members will have several long-lasting impacts on Yorba Linda's political scene.

The most significant consequence of the campaign that grew more negative each week is that so many of the city's most active and prominent citizens won't consider seeking a council position, continuing a pattern that becomes more pronounced each election year.

Proven leaders from churches, youth sports and cultural groups, city commissions and school committees don't run for council seats because campaigns have become increasingly corrosive and largely dominated by political operatives well-versed in the tactics of vilification.

Today's council elections with only five or six candidates from a 65,000-plus population are a far cry from the city's origins in 1967, when the first election drew 27 contenders from 11,500 residents. And the 27 individuals were a veritable “who's who” of the citizenry.

Political cynics say negative campaigns are effective, but research suggests mud-slinging and smear tactics deter broad-based participation, both as candidates and voters. The even more pessimistic opine that a low turnout is an unspoken goal of those who wield the hatchets.

Another impact is the emergence of “independent expenditure committees” as a major force in council elections. These groups, whether union-run or business-oriented, can collect thou-sands of dollars of special interest cash to support candidates with like-minded philosophies.

Legally, the “independent” committees can't coordinate tactics with candidates or candidate-organized committees, but their mailers and automated phone calls have the same wording, and candidates never disown the groups' negative tactics or misrepresentations.

Local political action committees, such as Yorba Linda Residents for Responsible Representation, will be less important in future elections. YLRRR endorsed eight winning and three losing candidates 2006 to 2012, but the failed recall could curtail the group's influence.

Expect even more negative campaigning as the same forces from the recall face off in the Nov. 4 election for two council positions and the balance of power on the five-member panel, especially since voter turnout easily could more than double that of the recall election.

The recall drew 12,783 ballots, 9,193 cast by mail and 3,590 at the polls, just 31.5 percent of 40,532 registered voters, with less than half of 21,230 mail-in ballots returned. The most recent mid-term election turnout was 28,533, or 65.3 percent in 2010.

Final official recall totals: 5,216 “yes” and 7,518 “no” for Lindsey; 5,234 “yes” and 7,457 “no” for Craig Young. Now-moot replacement tallies: Jeff Decker 5,101 and Matt Palmer 4,680 for Lindsey; J. Minton Brown 4,987 and Nancy Rikel 4,890 for Young.