SDNR: The best thing Wong can do is resign

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The real redistricting scandal

by David King at San Diego News Room
Republished with permission

Link to the original content at SDNR

Many have asked the simple question: “What is wrong with our government today?”  Although the list is long, for years I have been of the mind that manipulation of our legislative districts is the prime culprit—the reason “safe” legislators have no incentive to listen to their constituents.

When we first launched San Diego Newsroom in 2008, I weighed in on our redistricting woes from a statewide perspective.  Former City Attorney John Witt helped us launch sharing a piece on his biggest beef—the politicization of city government.

Although manipulation of redistricting is not new, but is pervasive and nation-wide, San Diego is rarely outdone when it comes to screwing the pooch.  Forever on the short-bus when it comes to our political system, the recent appointment of the Redistricting Commission and the selection of its 24-year-old partisan Chief of Staff exemplify both scourges upon our city government and politics.

Some functions of city government are not tainted by partisan politics, such as getting plans approved to remodel a house.  Other actions of city officials from the City Clerk to the Ethics Commission are tainted by partisan politics.  The drawing of council district lines is most certainly a partisan political magnet.

Citizens of San Diego who would volunteer their time and subject themselves to public scrutiny and gymnasiums packed with angry mobs can only be expected to be politically-motivated.   The city of San Diego’s appointment standard of “individuals with a demonstrated capacity to serve with impartiality in a non-partisan role” was conceived in fantasy land.  Rather than taking a “head-in-the-sand” approach, the city would do better to adopt a rule that embraces partisan political reality like the state’s selection approach:

The leaders of the Legislature [the majority and minority leaders of the State Assembly and Senate] could strike up to 24 of these [60] names. From the remaining [24] names, the State Auditor would then randomly draw the first eight commissioners. These eight commissioners would select the final six commissioners. The commission would have five members registered with each of the state’s two largest parties (Democrat and Republican) and four members registered with other parties or as independent voters.

The process of appointing our current Redistricting Commission was remarkably poor.  The selection of a 24 year-old partisan to be its Chief of Staff is disgraceful.

The partisan background of several board members has been bandied about.  “I’m shocked, shocked to hear that gambling is going on in here!”

What is comical is that while the City Charter requires Commission members who demonstrate an ability to be non-partisan and impartial, but the application to be a Commissioner included absolutely no requirement to report party registration or political activities.  Wouldn’t it seem helpful to ask applicants about their political activities to determine whether they are too partisan to serve on the Commission?

This was not an instance of justice being blind.  This was a political appointment process, which was destined to be blind, deaf and dumb.

City law required the selection of Commissioners by a panel of three retired judges.  Judge Patricia Yim Cowett was ill and unable to attend, leaving a committee of two.  Most graduates of pre-school recognize the unavoidable flaws of a two-person decision making process, but retired Judges Jim Milliken and William Howatt were unable to postpone the appointment hearing, find an alternate, or otherwise uphold the obvious purpose of requiring three decision-makers.

The two Judges selected the Commissioners through a succession of written ballots, with any applicant receiving two votes being appointed to the Commission.  Attorney Fred Kosmo was selected in the fourth round.

In the first round, Judge Howatt voted for Kosmo, but Judge Milliken did not.

In round two, Kosmo received Judge Milliken’s vote, but not Howatt’s.

In round three, Kosmo reclaimed Judge Howatt’s support, but lost Milliken’s.

Finally in round four, Kozmo received two votes.  San Diego government television feature presentation…The Two Stooges.

The Judges wound up selecting several individuals who are obvious partisans—obvious to those of us who follow local politics—many using the same mail-merged package of recommendation letters from groups known to be active in local politics.  Based on the process and the outcome, the Judges would have done better to walk over to Johnny Brown’s, grab a pitcher of beer, and select by throwing darts at the list.

Appointment processes will always be subject to human error, but the failure to solicit any information regarding applicants’ political activities is inexcusable.   The Judges’ willingness to proceed with a committee of two was downright foolish.

The real scandal is the appointment of Midori Wong as the full time chief executive, two years and six months after she earned her bachelor’s degree.

Journalists who have failed to grasp or even belittled the significance of Wong’s appointment betray their ignorance.  Ms. Wong’s daily efforts will be more important to the redistricting process than the periodic hearings of the individual Commissioners.

I know what it means to serve on a commission—it means you are a volunteer “weekend warrior” in an area of public importance, and you must be able to rely heavily upon your staff.  When I served as Chairman of the Regional Water Quality Control Board, the most important action we took was to select David Gibson to succeed John Robertus as the new Executive Officer.

Gibson is so smart he sounds like HAL the computer from 2001 Space Odyssey.  He had spent two decades working in the field of water pollution and advanced up the ranks at the board earning the respect of his peers and local government officials.  Every hair on his head is grey.  He was the most qualified applicant for the job, and his selection was not based upon his positions on any specific issues.

Midori Wong is too young to remember Brett Farve playing for the Packers.  Worse, even at her young age, she has already established strong partisan political ties which disqualify her from this position.   According to the Commission bylaws its Chief of Staff must meet this standard:

Highly ethical and objective, with the ability to navigate in a political environment without being political, and serve in an unbiased and impartial way.

Her selection is scandalous because unlike applicants for the Commission who need not disclose their partisan activities, Midiri Wong fully disclosed to the Redistricting Commission that she was an “Advisory Board Member and former Fellow” of “New Leaders Council“—a distinguished group of future political progressives.  Her resume shows that she worked for Democratic Assemblymember Helen Thomson, and the public record shows that her own mother is a Democrat in the State Assembly. She is qualified for a staff job with the DNC, but not Chief of Staff of the body that will redraw San Diego’s council districts and create a new, ninth district.

Her appointment to be Chief of Staff was shameless.

Her resume also reflects that she graduated from college and took her first real job in June and July of 2008—landing a good job as a planner with SANDAG.  However, over her future career this single, outrageous appointment to such a crucial position, pivotal to the future of a city government already struggling to regain the public’s respect—this premature promotion will benefit her career less than Monica Lewinsky’s position in the White House.  Her partisan friends did her no favors.

Commendations go to Dave Potter and Theresa Quiroz for voting against her selection.  Curiously, Theresa Quiroz, derided as a partisan with support of groups like Empower San Diego, voted against Wong.  KUSI reported that Wong’s selection was pushed by Carlos Marquez, another Commissioner who was endorsed by Empower San Diego.

No matter how interesting a cat fight went on behind the scenes, the whole process of redrawing San Diego’s council districts has been reduced to another San Diego circus. None of the Commissioners will ever be able to justify the selection of Midori Wong as the Chief of Staff.  No matter how diligent, fair or accurate their efforts, all of the work of the Redistricting Commission will be forever tarnished by the selection of Ms. Wong.

Ms. Wong appears to be a bright, attractive, young woman with a promising future as a progressive politician.  The best thing she can do for herself, for the Redistricting Commission and for the city of San Diego is to resign from her position.

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Thanks again to Mr. King at SDNR.

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Comments 7

  1. This is the most important political battle for the City of San Diego in 2011. It’s not as fun to watch on TV as Prop D, but it’s potentially more dangerous. Rigging the districts to meet labor’s interest is a recipe for more financial carnage for taxpayers. Please continue to spread the word about this, attend meetings, and demand that lines are drawn based on communities, not what Labor Unions want. And yes… Wong should resign, immediately.

  2. I would think the appeal that might have the greatest currency (though I doubt anything can save this train wreck) is that they have compromised their legitimacy. ANY map (and it could be the same one that Somomon would draw) will be questioned and critiqued. The well is completely poisoned. I think the only appeal that might work is for the commission members who are on it to TRY to do the right thing take power back, putting pressure on the three most partisan to resign.

  3. “Democracy isn’t perfect. I just don’t know a better system.” – Winston Churchill

    After reading this and other postings over the question of the City of San Diego Redistricting still brings to my mind why no one has answered my previous question from another post.

    Let me try it this way: Are Steve Rider, David King and the rest of you all upset over the City of San Diego Redistricting because these commissioners aren’t ALL from your own party?

    I think the answer is YES, because you are outraged because you claim someone has political background, but I haven’t seen the posted outrage over having 5 Republicans with political background voting on a County of San Diego redistrict map.

    If I’m wrong about it, then please enlighten me.

  4. The PROCESS in the County is that each of the five supervisors appoint a commission member and ultimately approve the maps. That is the PROCESS, like it or not. You can beef about all five supes being Republicans, but the fact of the matter is they are. Yet, NO ONE can say they aren’t following the redistricting process.

    The PROCESS in the City of SD is different than that…and what is supposed to be a non-partisan process has been hi-jacked. Now, Lorena can goad the GOP all she wants about being “asleep at the wheel” or whatever, but she is essentially admitting that she and her cohorts were not, thus an admission that they were out to stack the commission. Good for them, except for the fact that no matter what is turned out as far as maps will be perceived as tainted.

    Good luck with that PROCESS.

  5. If we really want to regain citizen control of San Diego, I would suggest the end of these district fiefdoms and a return to full citywide elections of city council representatives — perhaps with preference and/or “cumulative” voting.

    For most district representatives — federal, state and local — their primary directive is to “bring home the bacon.” All else is secondary (in most cases).

    I remember George Stevens’ sole concern with his district’s Malcolm X library was that it be bigger than Rancho Bernardo’s library. Go to that library (I’ve been there a couple times) and check the stacks — almost NONE of the visitors even visit the stacks. Most patrons (mainly kids) are there for the computers. It may be the most expensive free Internet cafe on the planet.

    But I digress (sorta).

    I would suggest that if this stacked redistricting commission rigs this decade’s city council representation, we consider a city initiative to change our election process to citywide elections. Gerrymandering and district patronage becomes a thing of the past. I think such a measure stands a reasonable chance of passing.

  6. Greg is right. The voters wanted a neutral commission. The process has been fatally tainted, which the voters specifically opposed.

    As I see it, the somnolent retired judges didn’t do their (presumably paid) jobs. Even a few Google searches would have established the incredible partisanship of several applicants.

    Even if neutrality is difficult, the judges might have tried for some BALANCE.

    The judges were asleep. Like most politicians, they took advice without question.

    Perhaps a judge — who relies on the prosecution and defense attorneys to provide both sides of an issue — were poor choices as commission selectors. Apparently a lifetime of such courtroom reliance killed off any initiative by the judges to seek out the facts on their own.

  7. The problem now is that ANY maps they create will be suspect. The other thing they have done (which is really boneheaded) is not allow for slight variances in population. The courts have long ago ruled that one can weigh slight differences (10% or less) against the interest in keeping communities together and providing for compact districts. In San Diego, where there are myriad of pretty key “subjurisidcitions (FBAs, CPAs, MADs, BIDSs) having that flexibility is just really really valuable.

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