The city of Chico is a little blue(-ish) Oasis in the sea of red that is the rural Northstate. Similar to California in regards to the rest of the nation, Chico has resisted the ever rightward surge around it. Home to Chico State University and a thriving arts community, Chico and its city council stubbornly maintain the “Green Line”, which prevents further sprawl onto agricultural and park lands, insist on spending a small portion of the city’s budget on the arts, and on artistic projects, (wasted money, say the Tea Party hypocrites. We’ll get to that shortly,) and on public safety measures other than more policemen.
The local Tea Party hasn’t taken that lying down, of course. They spent gobs of money to try and elect three candidates to the city council last year. They got one elected, and got the other by browbeating the Council into appoint one of the others (who finished fourth in the election which was for three seats,) after another councilman left office. That councilman was previously the lone right-winger on the council, so all that money managed to increase their minority from 1 to 2 on the 7-seat council.
I think it was that last action that gave the Tea Party their “best” idea yet. For all the sturm and drang that goes with the Tea Party, they’re absolutely awful at convincing anyone who doesn’t already agree with them that they’re right. So, elections aren’t their strong point. But what if fewer people voted?
Enter Measure A. What did it do? Well, it was kind of hard to tell, especially if you asked the paid signature gatherers who flooded the town. They said the petition was “for fair elections in Chico.” They were paid by Chico Tea Party head Stephanie Taber, assistant to that same freshman Butte County Supervisor Larry Wahl who’d just left Chico’s city council. Is it legal for the Supervisor’s office to be running a partisan campaign for a ballot initiative in the city of Chico? No, in point of fact, so of course both Wahl and Taber insist they’ve never done this, despite evidence to the contrary. (If anyone’s interested in the specific’s of this, the weekly newspaper Chico News and Review has a good article covering this.
Back to the initiative itself, what Measure A would do would be to move Chico’s city council elections from November to June. When the “fair elections” cover was blown, Taber and Measure A supporters argued that local elections are “lost” in November, amidst the headline-grabbing state and federal elections, and that having them in June would allow people “more opportunity to consider their choice”, as if any Tea Partier ever hesitated before filling in the box next to the R.
The boogeyman soon became apparent: Students. In this town of under 90,000 people, there are over 17,000 students at CSU Chico. “What do they know about local elections?” “What do they care about Chico?” “Some of them aren’t even American!” (I swear to God, that last quote is real.) The Yes on A signs had the slogan “For A Chico Majority”.
Even that apparently blatant attempt to disenfranchise a group which included over 20% of the town’s electorate is a bit of a smokescreen, since the obvious fact is that June elections simply attract fewer voters across the board. It is a smaller, more conservative electorate, and the Chico Tea Party figured, “If you can’t beat them, move the elections so they happen when you can.”
Without shame, Taber argued that a vote for Measure A was a vote for fiscal responsibility. Never mind the tens of thousands of dollars (nearly $50,000 alone from the Jarvisite Butte Taxpayers Association,) spent just getting the measure on the ballot. Never mind the $81,000 (according to the nonpartisan Butte County Clerk-Recorder’s Office) that the Measure A election would cost the city. Never mind that this fight was already had 24 years ago in 1987, when over 80% of voters supported moving Chico elections to November for what actually was fiscal responsibility. (Cheaper to consolidate elections.) And never mind the estimate $73,000 each June election would cost the city every other year in perpetuity for the future. Somehow this asinine power grab was claimed in the name of fiscal responsibility.
The good news, however, is that there seems to be a happy ending. Even the city’s sole daily, the right-leaning hard-news-resistant Chico Enterprise-Record couldn’t stomach Measure A’s blatantly undemocratic intent, and endorsed a no vote. And while many of the students have gone home for the summer, No on A’s efforts to make sure as many registered voters get a chance to vote seem to have paid off.
The County was estimating a voter turnout of around 50% for this election. Mail-in ballots which were received early are at present the only ballots which have been counted. Those ballots comprise 24.75% of Chico’s registered voters, or approximately half of what the county expect the total turnout to be. They came in 3509 votes for Measure A, and 7093 votes against. We’ll watch the counts as they progress, but with that margin, it looks like Chico has told the Tea Party’s incredibly expensive brand of “fiscal responsibility” to shove it.