Last Tuesday Bruce Whitaker hosted the November edition of his Talk Around Town series at the Fullerton Arboretum, his last as Mayor of Fullerton in 2013. Fullerton’s City Council chooses a Mayor and Mayor Pro Tem from amongst themselves on a rotational basis each December. It is likely that different mayor will be chosen at the December 3 City Council meeting.
Mayor Whitaker reflected on his time as a resident in Fullerton during the 1990’s, when he and others became politically active to oppose a proposed utility tax. He said that he was raised in a small town in the midwest, and that, although he had lived in Fullerton for some time, the city didn’t really feel like home to him until he got together with other residents to take action against the new tax. This organizing ultimately led to the 1994 recall of three council members who had voted to impose the new tax.
Politics is a dirty word in the United States. The 1994 recall was so divisive that prominent community members cited it as reason alone to oppose the second recall in Fullerton’s history in 2012. It’s difficult to imagine a recall election not being divisive. A more constructive course would be to build a culture of consensus where disagreements might be resolved, at least partially, before pursuing such extreme electoral measures, but individual actions and institutional structures sometimes make it nearly impossible to do so.
We have a winner-take-all system for our council elections instead of a ranked ballot voting system that would eliminate spoilers and better reflect the will of the voters. Far too much money is spent maligning or promoting candidates in crass or simplistic ways. Special interests pour resources into campaigns to ensure benefits to a relatively small number of people rather than considering what is best for the whole community.
The City Council itself utilizes Robert’s Rules of Order when they might instead adopt a more inclusive consensus seeking process. But seeking consensus through dialogue should be something residents themselves do on a continuing basis, and not just when an issue comes before our City Council or an election approaches. The politics of joy and justice can rise from the community if we build a more inclusive and respectful political culture from the ground up.