In Closed Session

Welcome to 2020.

Now that we have that pesky holiday stuff out of the way, it's time to turn our attention to something important — elections.

You don't care? You should, since some of this mess of changes is your fault. But we'll get to that.

Pay attention, because the primary election is a mere two months away, on March 3. That's a month earlier than in the past, at least in Long Beach, where the primary municipal election has been in April for as long as anyone can remember.

Two concurrent, yet totally unrelated, decisions caused that change. First, the political powers that be in the state decided it was time California had a voice in choosing presidential candidates. Primaries in the past were in June, meaning we were one of the last states to vote — when the decision typically were already made.

So the primary was moved to the first Tuesday in March, otherwise known as Super Tuesday. California will be one of 14 states conducting primary elections that day.

The second decision pushing our municipal election to March also came out of Sacramento. It's called Senate Bill 415.

That law, passed in 2015, requires cities where the voter turnout has been less than 25 percent of the average of the last four state elections to align its election dates with the state's elections. The theory is more people will vote in statewide — allegedly more important — elections.

Long Beach's turnout in the last general election was a whopping 13 percent. Statewide, the number was 65 percent. Now do you see why it's your fault?

But it's only a month earlier, so now big deal, right? Wrong.

For decades, Long Beach's general election — where runoffs are decided if no one got a majority in the primary — has been in June. Thanks to SB415 (and our abysmal voter turnout), that general election now will take place in November as part of the national presidential election.

It's a stone cold truth there will be a big turnout for that election, even in Long Beach. SB415 will be declared a success.

But there will be a couple of pretty significant unintended consequences thanks to these changes. First, those folks facing a runoff election — this year potentially all three contested City Council races — will be faced with a seven-month general election campaign.

Most of us have trouble staying engaged in a seven-minute video. As a candidate, how are you going to keep people caring for seven months?

That's not all. Under the old calendar, the politicos elected in June took office in July. Now the newly elected will take office on the first Tuesday in December.

In this transition year, and again in 2022, that change means the people already in office will get an extra five months on their term. An example — Second District Councilwoman Jeannine Pearce was sworn into office in July 2016. Pearce announced on Nov. 1, 2019, she would not run for reelection.

But, barring something unexpected, Pearce will remain the Second District council representative until Dec. 2, 2020. She will have a vote on the Fiscal 2020 city budget, just to name one big decision in that extra five months in office.

To be realistic, most of the city candidates still running after March 3 likely will lay low through spring and summer, popping up occasionally to raise money or make a policy statement on something big. The municipal campaigns likely will heat up again in September.

But when 2022 roles around, things will be different. All of the citywide elected officials  — mayor, city attorney, city auditor, city prosecutor — will be up for reelection along with the odd-numbered council districts.

Perhaps they'll all win outright in the primary. But if Mayor Robert Garcia or any of the other citywide officials decides not to seek a third term, an open seat likely would attract a ton of candidates and a runoff. Particularly for mayor, that would necessitate an expensive seven-month campaign. It also would mean lame-duck officials in office for an extra five months.

Got all that? I'm not sure I do, and I'll guarantee there's more than one politician who doesn't understand it either.

But let's add one more twist, just for fun. There's a brand new way people will vote this March — no more precincts.

We'll save that explanation for another time. Stay tuned.

Harry has been executive editor of Gazette Newspapers for more than 26 years. He has been in the newspaper business for more than 35 years, with experience on both weekly and metropolitan daily papers in Colorado and California.

Load comments