The Anaheim Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC) on Elections is chaired by Vivian Pham, a liberal Democrat who had only lived in Anaheim for two years when Mayor Tom Tait chose her last fall as one of his two appointees to the CAC (the other being another Democrat, Bill Dalati).
I eventually came to the opinion she was almost certainly coordinating with the left-wing coalition, led by OCCORD and UNITE-HERE Local 11, that is lobbying the CAC to recommend electing the City Council by single-member districts. After all, in her capacity as its Community Development Officer, Wells Fargo has funded OCCORD’s activities to the tune of at least $80,000. Furthermore, it is hardly a secret Pham is solidly in favor of single-member council districts.
Other observers of the CAC process have reached the same conclusion, and any doubts I may have had pretty much evaporated during last week’s CAC meeting (you can watch the video here).
To make a long story short, at last week’s meeting the CAC began working with a professional facilitator to develop draft recommendations that will eventually become the report presented to the City Council by next month. A few of the draft recommendations involved the city working with outside organizations in various ways related to council elections.
Gaming Recommendations For OCCORD
The first of these they dealt with was “to collaborate with the League of Women Voters and other local organizations to broadcast or record candidate forums.” [This is about at the 1:03 minute mark on the video]
When the facilitator asked for feedback, CAC Chair Vivian Pham, referring to notes she had in front of her, jumped in to request adding a qualifier that “that the other organizations, that they be non-partisan, and they have a proven track record of increasing voter turn-out.”
Mind you, the other CAC members — judging by their early initial reticence, seemed to have given little if any thought to the draft recommendations or what they would have to add coming into the meeting. Pham, on the other hand, was fully prepared, with written notes, for just this issue.
The City of Anaheim partnering with outside organizations on elections and voter outreach popped up in at least to other recommendations, and each time Pham requested adding the same qualifier and cautioned that “the city should, you know, not choose an organization that maybe has an agenda.”
The League of Women Voters was cited as an example of an organization that doesn’t have an agenda, which is laughable to anyone familiar with the League.
Some Agendas Are More Equal Than Others
But more to the point, I have no doubt the wording of Pham’s qualifier was calculated to restricting the city to broadcasting candidate forums sponsored by OCCORD or voter outreach efforts organized by UNITE-HERE. After all, they are non-profits that are — technically, if not practice — non-partisan and are experienced in registering and turning out voters.
The Anaheim Chamber of Commerce organizes candidate forums, but it doesn’t operate programs to “increase voter turn-out.” Neither does the Anaheim Neighborhood Association. Or Support Our Anaheim Resort (SOAR). Their PACs endorse candidates and send out campaign mailers, but those activities are keyed toward persuading voters more than increasing turn-out.
Pham’s qualifier would likely prohibit the city from broadcasting candidate forums by the above organizations or working with them on voter outreach, and definitely those organized by the Democratic or Republican parties, or by any other partisan organization. It essentially limits the city to broadcasting forums that are framing the council election issues from the left-side of the political spectrum: OCCORD and UNITE-HERE election activities serve to bolster Democratic candidates.
The rest of the CAC members are normal people who don’t think like political operatives, and so the true purpose of Pham’s restrictive qualifier eluded them. Hopefully, they will revisit the subject and ensure it is nixed in the final draft. Partnering with outside groups to actively registering voters and increasing voter turnout puts any city on tricky ground, and requiring that it decide which groups do and do not have “agendas” makes it even more complicated. And at the end of the day, why is an OCCORD-sponsored candidate forum any more “legitimate” than one sponsored by a political party? OCCORD has a self-proclaimed agenda that — just like a political party — seeks to re-shape government according to a distinct political philosophy.
How Did Pham Become Chair?
Finally, I have to wonder how it came to be that citizen body charged with recommending how the Anaheim City Council will be elected and structured for decades to come is being chaired y someone who has only lived in Anaheim little more than two years, and prior to that had bounced back and forth between Irvine and Huntington Beach?
After hearing William Fitzgerald speak at a CAC meeting last month, Pham commented that she wasn’t familiar with him or his Anaheim HOME “organization” and invited him to make a presentation at the following CAC meeting.
Fitzgerald is a notorious and noisome crackpot who bellows wacky and vicious opinions at every Anaheim City Council meeting. He ran for Mayor of Anaheim in 2010 — the first Anaheim in which Pham was eligible to vote. Only someone who had never attended or watched a city council meeting and had no grasp of Anaheim’s civic culture wouldn’t be familiar with him.
Look at it another way: the CAC is being chaired by recent arrival to Anaheim who has directed of tens of thousands in funding to the group leading the effort to lobby the CAC to make a specific recommendation.
Is it possible I am wrong and there is no coordination and strategizing going on between Pham and OCCORD? Sure. But highly unlikely.
The CAC process is nearing its end. It is what it is. Chalk this one up as another manifestation of Anaheim in Wonderland.