Superior Court Judge Kuhnle Doesn’t Seem to Understand Santa Clara, the Registrar of Voters, or Political Realities

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.

GavelScalesQuestions

7 comments

  1. Judge Kuhnle sounds like an activists judge who really doesn’t care about elections and Santa Clara. He cares about making a name for himself. He doesn’t even seem to understand neighorhoods or deadlines.

    I looked it up and he ran unopposed last time. After this all blows up, it should be easy to find someone to run against him on this issue.

  2. I agree with Diane. There should be six districts instead of one or two. There are significant demographic differences across the geography of the city, and I’m not just talking about race but also about other important demographic differences such as age, nearby crime, number of kids, commuting stress, home ownership, distance to and quality of neighborhood parks, walkability, distance to retail, etc. A council member representing Rivermark should push for different issues than a council member representing the areas near El Camino, Santa Clara University, or Pruneridge.

    BTW, there seems to be an oft repeated but not true line about how the city of Santa Clara is racially integrated. A quick glance at any recent census map shows that the city is somewhat diverse on an aggregate basis but is obviously not truly integrated on a neighborhood basis. For example, take a look at , and it’s readily apparent that this is idea of racial randomness and uniformity is not true. The area immediately south of 101 is largely Latino (over 60%). Asians constitute over 56% of the southwest corner west near Lawrence and north of Montague and 101. Whites are only a majority in some areas of the south part of the city.

  3. But the voting for “seats” is bogus. That turns every “seat” into a multi-person voteravaganza and pretty much guarantees that the person with the most name recognition will win the “seat.” If the so called “at-large” voting for 6 “seats” is kept, ranked-choice (RC) voting is far and away the best way to get around the “who’s on first, what’s on second” seat choices. See wikipedia, ” voters in elections can rank the candidates in order of preference. Ballots are initially counted for each elector’s top choice, losing candidates are eliminated, and ballots for losing candidates are redistributed until one candidate is the top remaining choice of a majority of the voters. When the field is reduced to two, it has become an “instant runoff” that allows a comparison of the top two candidates head-to-head. has the effect of avoiding split votes when multiple candidates earn support from like-minded voters.” Otherwise 6 districts are an extremely good idea. Then voters can focus on several people vying for 1 seat rather than as-many-as-possible for as-many-as 3-6 seats at a time.

  4. The other problem that no one has addressed is the deeply imbedded Santa Clara families that just will not go away and will not get out of politics either! Rumor,has it that Mahan is gonna run for mayor AGAIN . , jeez that part of the problem in Santa Clara too! Look at what the Two Pats just did in not opening the door for a newcomer … they are part of the problem too and won’t go away either … the deeply imbedded just won’t step aside! Did you ever think that the judge is trying to get rid of the old and get some fresh faces in? Seems that nothing else has worked for decades … take a good hard look at the track record … same name and retreads … go from school district, city employees, council mayor and around again and around again … how does Santa Clara finally get these people to stop circling the toilet bowl? The “public process” — which this was NOT (that was a huge lie!! — they had to be approved by the Council — has been trying to get new people for decades … hope the Judge finally succeeds and OUR public money is NOT wasted on a lawsuit either!

    LET it finally happen .. and let Lisa, Teresa, Kathy, Debbie, Patty, and all the City Staff cronies go get real jobs and stop feeding at the public trough on the taxpayers dime! It is about time there is accountability and consequences when things are not done correctly as citizens have been demanding for years! Enough is enough — out with the good ol girls and boys — it is ruining Santa Clara and we, the citizens have had enough.

  5. The council and staff did their work reaching out to the community to find out what the the residents would support. The city charter requires that to be done before any changes can be made to change the city’s charter. Based on the input received Measure A was put on the ballot. But many people don’t want to see change. They like the at large system. They know that the council supports the residents no matter their race, creed or color. The No on A folks needed to butt out. Santa Clarans know more about their city. Not the judge. Not outside interests. Then when there was an opportunity to even appoint a person to fill the empty council seat, shamefully two councilmembers opted out of what the residents voted on in 2016 when there is an appointment to be made. I have confidence in my mayor and council – well at least 4 of them. Santa Clara wants and needs leaders that do the right thing. If that is being done, then go away and leave my city alone.

  6. Or had the city council done this right the first time with six districts instead of that joke they offered in June, your concerns about candidates filing and getting this done properly would have been addressed. Instead you want to blame the judge for doing the right thing when the city would not.

    Six districts will give every neighborhood in Santa Clara a stronger voice in city affairs. Look beyond the “race” issue and see that six districts will greatly benefit everyone in Santa Clara.

    • I agree with Diane. There should be six districts instead of one or two. There are significant demographic differences across the geography of the city, and I’m not just talking about race but also about other important demographic differences such as age, nearby crime, number of kids, commuting stress, home ownership, distance to and quality of neighborhood parks, walkability, distance to retail, etc. A council member representing Rivermark should push for different issues than a council member representing the areas near El Camino, Santa Clara University, or Pruneridge.

      BTW, there seems to be an oft repeated but not true line about how the city of Santa Clara is racially integrated. A quick glance at any recent census map shows that the city is somewhat diverse on an aggregate basis but is obviously not truly integrated on a neighborhood basis. For example, take a look at , and it’s readily apparent that this is idea of racial randomness and uniformity is not true. The area immediately south of 101 is largely Latino (over 60%). Asians constitute over 56% of the southwest corner west near Lawrence and north of Montague and 101. Whites are only a majority in some areas of the south part of the city.

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