A Seat at the Table

This is a letter to the San Mateo Daily Journal I wrote in response to a recent article by Matt Grocott, a former member of the San Carlos City Council.

I read Matt Grocott’s August 11th column with interest. Matt & I were locally elected in the same year, 2001. He joined San Carlos’ City Council while I joined its School Board, running successfully for the Council in 2011.

Matt’s point about not knowing who is enabling repayment of campaign loans is a good one. I hope some enterprising local reporter will analyze the post-election filings and publish her or his findings. In my own experience those loans are often forgiven by the candidate themselves, but data is better than anecdotal experience.

Matt is off the mark, though, about uninformed or less informed voters casting ballots in elections. Such voters are just as much part of a community as the more informed. Jefferson famously said “If a nation expects to be ignorant & free, in a state of civilisation, it expects what never was & never will be.” The answer is not to constrain voting to the more informed but to reduce the level of ignorance.

Which is one of the main reasons I happily pay taxes to support my local schools even though my children are adults and I get no direct benefit from our public education system.

Throughout history those with a vested interest in the way the world currently is have sought to keep it from changing, out of fear it would imperil their position. In democracies, the techniques used often involve restricting the ability of others to vote. While such short-sighted attempts may protect their self-interest, they do so by harming the interests of others.

A better approach is to give everyone a seat at the table, make sure they have the chance to learn about the choices they face, and allow the political process to work. It’s not perfect; nothing is. But since we’re all in this together anyway it’s the fairest thing to do.

There’s a funny story involving local elections I didn’t note in my letter for space reasons. Back in 2016 or 2017 I approached Greg Rubens, our city attorney about putting a measure before San Carlos voters to shift Council elections to even years. It had always bothered me our elections were on “off” years, leading fewer people to pay attention to them. I wanted to increase turnout and thereby increase engagement between the community and its elected representatives. I’ll never forget Greg laughing and telling me “Good news! The Legislature just required public agencies to do what you want to do.”

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