City of Tucson Talks a Good Game on Diversity and Inclusion, but….

City of Tucson Talks a Good Game on  Diversity and Inclusion, but….

Mike-Varney_Tucson-Metro-Chamber_borderOn Friday, September 2, a full eleven-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco overturned a decision by one of its own three-judge panels earlier this year and declared the City of Tucson’s quirky voting system to be constitutional.  The three-judge panel had originally declared Tucson’s voting system to be unconstitutional stating that Tucson’s ward-only primary election and at-large general election system is unconstitutional because it violates the equal protection clause of the 14th amendment.

Friday’s ruling overturning the three-judge panel’s decision means that candidates in each of Tucson’s six wards’ primary races (which are partisan) will be decided only by voters in each individual ward.  However, voters citywide will still be allowed to decide who wins the general election in each ward.  This system guarantees election outcomes based on citywide political party registration and not on the preferences of voters in each ward, which vary from ward to ward.  This system of voting is used almost nowhere else in the country…for very obvious reasons.

In the November 2015 election voters in two city wards actually gave the majority of their votes to the challengers in their respective wards.  However, the two incumbents in those races were “re-elected” because votes from voters in the other four wards overcame the advantage the challengers had earned in their own wards.  In other words, voters from outside the wards where the challengers won overrode the preferences of the voters in the wards that wanted a change in leadership.  And this is not the first time this has happened.

For perspective, I wonder what Tucson’s elected leaders would say if presented with a proposal to have all voters in the state elect state representatives and senators from our area.  Or what about having voters the world over help elect our federal officials?

So expect 100% one-party domination of political thought in Tucson for years to come even though voter registration is 44%/31%/23% (D/I/R).  This is statutory voter suppression at its worst.

Would we accept a voting system that stacks the deck against one gender or the other?  One ethnic group to the exclusion of all others?

In Tucson, our City Council frequently advocates for diversity and inclusion.  But one must question how committed they truly are to including ALL citizens in their advocacy. Are the voices of ALL citizens represented in diversity of thought and political perspective by those who sit on the dais on Tuesday evenings?  We think not.  Even to the casual observer, our Council appears exclusive and monolithic.

In a May 7, 2016 article called Confession of Liberal Intolerance in the New York Times by columnist Nicolas Kristof he states, “We progressives believe in diversity, and we want women, blacks, Latinos, gays and Muslims at the table – er, so long as they aren’t conservatives.”  Kristof continued, “Universities are the bedrock of progressive values, but the one kind of diversity that universities disregard is ideological and religious.  We’re fine with people who don’t look like us, as long as they think like us.”

“When perspectives are unrepresented in discussions, when some kinds of thinkers aren’t at the table, classrooms become echo chambers rather than sounding boards – and we all lose,” says Kristof.  The Chamber says add City Councils to that list right along with classrooms.

So the Ninth Circuit has ruled that Tucson’s voting system is not unconstitutional. However it IS unfair, unrepresentative and unfortunate.

A system that is purposely designed and supported to stifle diversity of thought and ignore inclusion of all stakeholders is wrong.  We will be a better city when the political thought and preferences of all citizens are represented in City government.  Only then will our local government walk its talk on diversity and inclusion.


Michael V. Varney
President & CEO