Monday, April 25, 2016
Moving Laredo Forward has successfully completed phase 1 of their mission: they turned in more than 10,000 signatures to city hall on Friday. Barring any unforeseen circumstances, their agenda items will appear on the November ballot, thus letting the people of Laredo decide on changing the city charter. At stake is the mayor having a little more power, and the composition of city council changing into a hybrid system, which will contain four at-large seats.
Moving Laredo Forward wants more accountability from city hall. That's good, right? The group says that, with a hybrid system (4 district reps and 4 at-large reps), voters will have more council members at their disposal. Let's say someone has an issue that needs attention; they will have four at-large council members they can lobby, as well as the mayor and the district representative. That makes sense to MLF.
Laredoans barely vote, and MLF thinks that constituents will suddenly become more active in local government that they'll reach out to several council members. And on top of that, Moving Laredo Forward believes that having at-large candidates at work will end corruption as we know it.
But enough of the wants of Laredo's elite, their chummy relationship with Patricia Barrera, and the resources to place many an ad in the Laredo Times. Let's look instead at a possible outcome of their plan.
Critics of MLF's hybrid system have argued that at-large seats will favor candidates with more money. Naturally, they think that the at-large positions will be filled by people from north Laredo. But money doesn't necessarily mean a victory for a campaign: see Gene Belmares, Louis Bruni, CY Benavides. I propose we look instead at who is actually turning out the vote.
The "spreadsheet" I posted above has the voting totals for each precinct in the sheriff's primary race. As we all know, Martin Cuellar won that one. He had more money than Rick Flores, but more importantly, his name was Cuellar. I'll leave it at that. Using the numbers listed above, I want to advance the notion that at-large candidates may all come from south Laredo.
I grant that my experiment is in no way ideal, but I'm putting it forward for consideration. Please indulge me for a while.
I broke up Laredo into north and south, using Saunders as the dividing line. The two columns on the left represent all the voting precincts south of Saunders. And the two columns on the right are for those north of Saunders. (It's not perfect, I know.) The total votes from the south side are: 13,770. The north total is: 11,150. These are the numbers provided by our local elections office. The south side, I suggest, may be more formidable in elections than most people may think.
In 2011, Yolanda Salinas (Raul Salinas) thanked the canioneros for all their help in getting out the vote. What is their influence in future races? What significance is there in Esteban Rangel wanting more pay for council members? To benefit the incoming person? And there may be more to council's vote against Moving Laredo Forward's referendum: they may be privy to the unintended results that nobody has considered.
Critics and supporters of the charter changes have stated their case, one way or another. But what if they're all wrong? It could be that future councils will be composed of south Laredo cliques that are efficient at getting people to the polls. They may be good politicians or they may be as corrupt as they come. We don't know what will happen. Moving Laredo Forward tells us what may happen. But sometimes, things sound too good to be true.