Representation vs. Representatives

The California primary is coming up in just about 6 weeks. As a No Party Preference voter who doesn’t get to vote in the Presidential Primary, and as someone who really isn’t involved in national politics anyway, my attention for the March primaries is on the local races.


“no party preference” last week surpassed the Republican Party as the second-most-popular designation among registered voters in the county, behind the Democratic Party. So-called “NPPs” became the state’s second-largest political group in the spring.

San Diego voters’ long trend toward political independence, San Diego Union-Tribune September 18th, 2018

At the center of several candidacy’s, especially in extremely diverse parts of San Diego, is this concept of representation. The idea presented is that we aren’t just voting for someone based on their qualifications, we’re also asked to vote for someone who looks like us, has a similar background, is our race, religion, or sexual identity.

To paraphrase Dr. King’s I Have a Dream speech, in multiple local races we, the voters, are being asked to vote for someone not for the content of their hearts, but to consider voting for someone based on the color of their skin. (Or another exterior characteristic.)

In politics, I find that notion ultimately disrespectful to office. While I certainly see the value of and need for representation, voters are not asked to vote for this cultural construction of representation because there’s more to the office being held than the photo on the wall. We are ultimately voting for representatives. A person who will represent 100% of constituents.

Yes, it would be ideal if the people who ran for office to represent their constituents also looked like or had similar backgrounds to the people they represent. But voters would be wise to first consider if the person is qualified for the office, have they demonstrated that they will — given the opportunity and entrusted by the public — represent all of the people they are elected to represent and not just the special interest who finance their campaigns. And then and only then, if all things are equal, then perhaps consider representation.

But electing representation for the sake of representation is more likely to invite corruption, driving people away, than it is to inspire others.

I believe these local elections are vital. I believe that the down ballot stuff impacts you and I more than the top line stuff. They impact daily life for millions of San Diegans. Who wins is vital to regular folks. The things that matter to you and me are highly impacted by the locals we vote to represent us at the school board, city council, county supervisor, and mayoral levels. These are extremely important offices and in the primary very few voters will ultimately decide these very important races.

And that’s why I think it’s so important that each local voter take the time to really look at all the candidates and ask themselves two questions as they prepare to vote:

  1. Who is the best person for this job? Not the politics, not the party, the job. If you were hiring one of them… which one?
  2. Are they qualified? Do they know anything about the job they are running to do? Have the proven they are trustworthy? Do you have some sense that they are fair-minded?

Yes, representation matters. But not nearly as much as electing a good representative.





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