Wednesday, November 9, 2011

A Victory For The Practical -- Not The Ideological

Yesterday, Ventura’s voters proved once again that they’re practical, not ideological, and they’re more interested in constructive solutions than angry rants.

The solid winners in yesterday’s election were my longtime council colleagues Christy Weir and Carl Morehouse and newcomer Cheryl Heitmann, whom I was proud to endorse. Ken Cozzens finished a strong fourth.

Sometimes there seemed to be a fair amount of shrill rhetoric in this campaign -- reflecting the polarization nationally. The Tea Party and others on the right tried to paint the incumbents and Cheryl as free-spending liberals who are in the pockets of the unions, whereas some Democrats and others on the left pounded on the idea that electing Carla Bonney and Bill Knox would mean the Tea Party would take over the City Council.

A lot of this was exaggerated. In fact, Christy and Carl have taken a very hard line with the unions in the last two years, and Bill Knox – although he is very fiscally conservative – is not quite a Tea Party guy. But in the end it didn’t matter. Christy, Carl, and Cheryl all ran positive campaigns that resonated with the voters. As pointed out, the VCStar's online comments may be vitriolic, but clearly the commenters are not in the majority.

Though they often disagree with each other, Christy and Carl both presented themselves as experienced folks who know and care about our community but nevertheless have experience making hard-nosed decisions. Cheryl drew upon her community college board experience and her experience as executive director of the Ventura Music Festival to emphasize her skill at bringing people together and creating innovative partnerships.

The next few years will be tough ones for the city and these are the skills we will need on the City Council to face up to the challenges.

One of the big lessons from this election – a lesson that has been proven over and over again here in Ventura – is that if you are on the far right or the far left, you can’t win just with your political base. You have to have crossover appeal to those practical, moderate voters – Republicans, Democrats, and independents – who are not zealously ideological. These are the folks who hold the balance of power here in Ventura.

It’s telling, for example, that Tea Party favorite Carla Bonney and union favorite Danny Carrillo got almost exactly the same number of votes. They each got about 3,500 votes, which means about 23% of the voters who cast ballots voted for them. In other words, each one carried their base – on the political right for Carla and on the political left for Danny – but they couldn’t cross over.

As I say, these are not new lessons. The Bonney campaign discovered – as the Camille Harris campaign learned in 2009 – that there is a difference between standing in front of Lowe’s getting people to sign a petition and getting people to cast their ballot for you. The Carrillo campaign learned – as Jerry Martin’s union-based campaign learned in 2007 and 2009 – that you can’t get elected in this town with union backing alone.

Knox, who finished fifth, also fell into this "no-crossover" trap. Bill is an extreme fiscal conservative – too extreme for me – but he’s also an genuine community-oriented guy. Unfortunately for him, the community-oriented aspect of Bill did not come across in the campaign and he wasn’t really the serious contender that many people thought he would be. Cozzens, on the other hand, is well known in town and had broad appeal -- more from the right than from the left, but still -- and that's why he did well.

The bottom line was that most voters ruled out the extremes on the left or right and were left to choose among the four who had crossover appeal – Heitmann, Morehouse, Weir, and Cozzens. The first three were bunched together at the top, with Cozzens doing well in the fourth spot. Which just goes to show you once again: Here in Ventura, if you leave it up to the voters, they’ll usually make the right decision.