Monday, May 19, 2008

Local Politics Need to Color Outside the Lines

If you’re a political junkie in Frisco, (and I am) the last couple of months have provided plenty of fireworks. We saw wild claims and counter-claims from both sides of the late night liquor sales ordinance (strip clubs, economic booms). Ethics accusations were levied against a mayoral candidate. And if you had a few neighbors over for a springtime cookout, chances are good that one of the 14 candidates showed up stumping for votes. (I think I spotted three at my daughter’s birthday, but I didn’t look too closely at the clown’s makeup.) What originally appeared to be slim electoral pickings, bloomed at the filing deadline into a robust field of choices.

It all culminated in last Saturday’s election, where we collectively chose a new Mayor, one council member (the other seat will require a run off) and defeated the option to extend the sales of adult beverages beyond midnight on most nights. The two incumbent school board members were returned to their offices by a comfortable margin. And while some may have been surprised by certain results, it was pretty much a typical, small-town municipal election in North Texas.

Yet, I couldn’t help being struck by the monochromatic nature of the slate of candidates this year. I was Curious, I went back and scanned through the city charter. Sure enough, I wasn’t able to find anything restricting candidates to white, male, family men. In a year where the national election news is being dominated by non-traditional candidates, that’s what filled out the ballot for municipal office: white guy, white guy, Hispanic guy, white guy, black woman, white guy, white guy, white guy… you get the picture.

A 2006 American Community Survey conducted by the US Census Bureau pegged the Hispanic population of Frisco at over 11,000 or roughly 13 percent. And yet a quick glance at the city council photographs adorning City Hall indicates none of that diversity in any city-wide elected position. Meanwhile, women make up just over half of the population. But, outside of the school board, only one woman now holds a city elected office. African-Americans? None.

Why are these constituencies so under-represented in Frisco? I spoke with council candidate Antonio Luevano to get his perspective. His theory is that the animosity kindled by the regional debate over illegal immigrants has discouraged our Hispanic citizens from getting active in local politics. If that’s the case, it’s a shame. There are certainly issues facing this growing community (jobs, affordable housing), but no strong leadership presence has stepped forward to address them. Mr. Luevano had the best of intentions, but his short residency in town put him at a significant disadvantage. He garnered only 5% of the votes. If Frisco’s Hispanic community wants its voice heard, it will need to find a more experienced candidate the next time around.

As for the dearth of women on the ballot, that comes as a bigger surprise. Frisco has a long track record of electing women to city office. Mayor Kathy Seei proudly served our community for 6 years and was instrumental in laying the groundwork for the growth that followed. At least one woman has served on the city council for a number of years, with Joy West currently filling that role. And yet, in this election, only LeDella Levy represented her gender amongst the 10 city council and mayoral candidates, and she received the lowest vote tally of any of them.

I would never suggest that anyone vote for or against someone strictly based on their membership in one or another ethnic or gender category. There were ample other differences in the candidates on which to base a decision. Rather, I hope that this election cycle serves as a wakeup call to those constituencies which find themselves under-represented in Frisco City Hall. Municipal governments have far more impact on our day-to-day lives than any national office. Rather than expending excess energy on the HillyBama debate, cast your focus closer to home and get involved locally. Perhaps in the future, our elected representatives can better reflect the varied hues of our population.

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