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Tim Myers: The SCV incumbent conundrum: Is Craig Duswalt right or not?

Myers' Musings

Posted: December 4, 2009 5:26 p.m.
Updated: December 6, 2009 4:55 a.m.
I recently joined the social networking site Facebook to better monitor young adult children who live away from home, particularly a daughter in her freshmen year at California State University Channel Islands who seems to provide a real-time update every three seconds or so.

Now for those three people unfamiliar with the operation of Facebook, one can either add someone as a friend, which then must be confirmed by that person or be added as a friend which then must be confirmed by you. In my case, I only forced friendship on family members but felt gratification when several local folks asked to add me as a friend.

In a conversation about local elections, one new friend commented on how I felt about incumbents. I quickly pointed out I do not feel any particular way about incumbents. I just write about the demonstrable fact incumbents seldom (read: almost never) lose when they seek reelection in the Santa Clarita Valley.

Now if anyone rational still disbelieves, we provide the object lesson of the recent Newhall School District board election.

Incumbent board member Mike McGrath publicly withdrew from the race in September. All local media outlets reported this and The Signal editorial board wrote a piece stridently reminding everyone not to vote for him. McGrath did not campaign at all.

Yet, McGrath not only finished in the top three to recapture his seat, he came first by a not insignificant number, getting just under 2,500 votes.

In fact, just under 25 percent of the ballots cast in the entire election contained a vote for the withdrawn and sole incumbent candidate.

Now many do concede the strength of incumbency, but they promote the wrong fix. They all assume the solution to the incumbency lock resides in a mysterious increase in voter turnout.

How one reconciles a solution that can only bring more uninformed voters to the process when 25 percent of the low turnout marks a withdrawn incumbent for the prize, I cannot begin to understand.

But I can report the outgoing Newhall district board decided to compound the error on Dec. 1 when it selected Brian Walters to replace the resigning McGrath from a pool of nine applicants.

Earlier, Craig Duswalt, who came fourth in the election, declined to place his name in contention for the appointment.

Duswalt guessed, probably correctly, that the selecting board members would heavily discount the fact he got nearly 2,100 actual people to vote for him in the general election, and he would need to endure the dual humiliation of first losing by 350 votes to a candidate not even running and then failing to convince three people to select him when 2,100 people already made that choice in an actual election campaign.

Instead, the board selected Walters (it also passed over the last-place candidate, Scott Miller, who polled about 1,600 votes in the general election).

Walters will serve a two-year term, and if he decides to run for re-election, can slap the bulletproof shield of “incumbent” next to his name on the ballot and cruise to victory after a bruising campaign of filling out an application, participating in a 20-minute interview and convincing three people to vote for him when in the real election it took 2,300 votes to get a seat.

Luckily, Walters mitigated this undemocratic outcome by self-deprecation and humility. Well, not so much.

Local media outlets interviewed the newly appointed Walters and we learned he got interested in seeking a board seat when he attended a candidate forum at Pico Canyon Elementary School. When listening to the candidates, it occurred to me perhaps I was on the wrong side of the forum.

Now Walters may be a lovely person, but one could certainly interpret that comment to mean how lucky the constituents of the Newhall School District were that 25 percent of them were too uninformed or lazy to realize they were voting for someone not even running, so he could swoop in, apply and save them from mediocre representation because of his incredible superiority to actual candidates.

I wonder if he numbers winning board members Christy Smith and Phil Ellis in that pool of mediocrity he will thwart.

Is it unfair to ask Walters if he voted for McGrath?

Tim Myers is a Valencia resident. His column represents his own views, not necessarily those of The Signal. “Myers’ Musings” appears Sundays in The Signal.


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