By Robert Haugh
Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Thomas Kuhnle is doing things that make no sense to people who understand Santa Clara and politics and political reality.
He issued an order for Santa Clara to draw six districts because he thinks that there’s racially polarized voting in Santa Clara and Asian candidates have been discriminated against.
Kuhnle — a Palo Alto resident — clearly doesn’t know Santa Clara.
The Mission City is an integrated community. Those of us who have lived here for decades know this. Our neighborhoods are racially mixed and economically mixed. We don’t have a concentration of ethnic groups in neighborhoods. So you can’t easily create districts to help non-white candidates.
Lowered the Legal Standard?
In fact, Kuhnle and the plaintiffs suing Santa Clara tried. Guess what? They couldn’t create a district with more than 50 percent Asians in it. No surprise.
That’s one of the reasons why the City decided to appeal Kuhnle’s decision. They feel, according to our sources, that they can win on appeal because Kuhnle lowered the legal standard.
Last week, Kuhnle issued another out-of-touch decision. He ordered six districts to be drawn in time for the November, 2018 elections. That means that in the month of July, when a lot of people are on vacation, the city has been forced to hold community hearings to get public input then draw a map. Here’s the schedule:
- July 3, 2018 – 6 p.m., Council Chambers
- July 5, 2018 – 4:30 p.m., Central Park Library
- July 11, 2018 – 6 p.m., Council Chambers
- July 21, 2018 – 11 a.m., Northside Library
So, candidates who usually file in the month of July, can’t do it. Thanks to Kuhnle, they have to wait until a map is drawn sometime in August. They’ll have less time to raise money and campaign. That’s going to help well-known candidates and hurt lesser known candidates — like Asian candidates. Whoops.
That’s what happens when a judge without practical political experience creates a timeline that has real-world political impact. Before becoming a judge, Kuhnle worked at an international law firm on business disputes and intellectual property.
“ROV Train Wreck” Coming?
Another interesting thing to watch is how the Registrar of Voters (ROV) reacts to Kuhnle’s decisions. Our sources in the County building say that there’s no way the Registrar can create six districts in Santa Clara in time for November. No registrar in the state can move that quickly without making mistakes. And Santa Clara County has had huge problems over the last decade. They’re not one of the better offices according to a 2017 state audit.
They’ve sent voters the wrong ballots and omitted information. A few months ago, the ROV even left out the major biographic info from County Supervisorial candidate Jason Baker’s profile. One knowledgeable source put it this way: “Kuhnle doesn’t know it. But he just ordered an ROV train wreck.”
Compare Kuhnle’s crazy schedule to what the diverse Santa Clara Citizens Charter Review Committee did. They met for approximately a year and had over a dozen public hearings to draw a two-district map for Santa Clara.
Maybe that’s why Mayor Lisa Gillmor told Emily DuRuy of the Mercury News that Kuhnle’s plan was “drastic.” Gillmor also pointed out that six districts in Santa Clara is the equivalent to 50 districts in San Jose. Wow. That’s crazy.
Let’s hope Santa Clara does appeal — and wins. That’ll save us from a bad plan that’s being rushed by a judge who doesn’t seem to understand Santa Clara, the ROV or political realities.