Ryan Coonerty, outgoing District 3 Santa Cruz County supervisor, offers four insights on Tuesday’s election results, along with a bit of wry humor. From the defeat of Measure D to low voter turnout and a historic supervisor runoff, he walks us through the ups and downs of election season and even helps us understand why Santa Cruz today is like Philadelphia circa 1787.
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“Coonerty, you and your commie friends are why this place has gone to hell,” the white-haired lady on Otis Street hissed before she slammed the door in my face.
It was my first campaign. 2004. I was 30 years old and committed to knocking on every door in my hometown in my run for city council. Most voters were nice, if occasionally stoned, when I’d show up on their doorstep. One topless lady asked sophisticated questions about water policy. Another voter held a gun by his side, explaining that he didn’t like strangers coming to his door.
I was young and idealistic, so being blamed for ruining a town that had yet to elect me wasn’t going to deter me. I walked around the corner, bounded up some cracked steps and decided to give the angry grandma’s neighbor a try.
“Hi, I’m Ryan Coonerty,” I began.
“Coonerty? Not interested. You are in the pockets of business and developers. We need real progressives.”
In bipartisan irony, she, too, ended the conversation by closing the door before I could reply.
I knocked again.
When she reopened the door, she was clearly ready for Round 2. I cut her off by explaining what her neighbor had said.
“You both can’t be right,” I argued. “You two should talk. I don’t know which, but one of you is wrong and should vote for me.”
I tell this story to new candidates now.
Because until you’ve knocked on 10,000 doors, you don’t know how truly idiosyncratic the electorate can be. Political insiders have this image of warring tribes and litmus test issues. They have faith in the power of a well-designed mail piece. In truth, there is tremendous randomness to it — until it results in a decisive win or loss that is final and sometimes painfully irrefutable.
This campaign was no different. It featured a million little dramas that will live on in memories and grudges for decades, but here are four, big-picture, early takeaways from the election.
I don’t think anyone thought Measure D would go down so solidly: currently it’s 2-to-1 against. It goes to show that letters to the editor don’t translate into votes.
The same goes with money. It appears Greenway spent more than $50 for every vote it got, which doesn’t count two years of advocacy before the campaign began.
At the end of the day, as I wrote a couple of weeks ago, this measure was not, and would likely never be, consequential. I urge everyone to unite around any of the myriad of very real, very scary challenges we face.
Santa Cruz, Pennsylvania
When our founders wrote the Constitution in the summer of 1787, Philadelphia was less populated than Santa Cruz is today. It was also a small town with messy politics. Yet a document emerged, based on compromise, aspiration and fears, that still, for better or worse, determines how the country is governed.
On Tuesday, the voters of Santa Cruz held a mini-constitutional convention.
By enacting Measure E, the city’s governance will be fundamentally different for decades to come. We will have districts (which we were going to have anyway), but also a directly elected mayor. The mayor will not have any new powers or much of a salary, but they will have four years, a platform, and, if they use it, an ability to implement a broad vision with the community.
The question now is, who is going to be Santa Cruz’s George Washington?
Running into runoffs
It appears that both supervisorial seats are headed to a runoff — the first runoff in District 3 since 2002. It is gut-check time for the candidates.
It’s as though you’ve run a marathon only to find out you are only halfway done. There goes summer vacation and restful nights.
One-on-one campaigns have big incentives to go negative. Let’s hope they don’t, but there is no doubt toughness will be required. Not bad training for a job where most votes are hard and unpopular.
Santa Cruz brand is strong
Santa Cruz County got carved up like a Thanksgiving turkey in the redistricting process.
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We used to be the center of gravity for our state Assembly seat (which really matters, as California, the world’s fifth-biggest economy, is run by only 120 legislators). Since 1993, Santa Cruzans have held the seat. I wondered if that would continue as two-thirds of the votes are now over the hill.
Could a Santa Cruz candidate resonate in Silicon Valley? Would our community’s brand be positive or negative? (I know the answer if it were the other way around …)
Former Santa Cruz County Registrar of Voters Gail Pellerin put in exhaustive hours getting to know the new district. She is one of the most energetic people I’ve ever met. As a result, she proved that her brand, and our community’s occasionally kooky brand, is strong.
She essentially tied Los Gatos Mayor Rob Rennie among Santa Clara voters, then ran up the score here at home to put herself in pole position to represent us in Sacramento.
Turnout was historically low and the nastiness of national politics is emerging locally. It is not an easy time to be in politics. A genuine thank you to all the candidates, their friends and families, the volunteers, the election administrators and everyone who voted.
You kept the demo in democracy and we are better for it.
Ryan Coonerty is a former mayor of Santa Cruz and soon-to-be-former Santa Cruz County supervisor. He is the host of “An Honorable Profession” podcast.