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PART VI -- Why Do Incumbents Keep Getting Re-Elected?


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October 19, 2018 -- In Santa Monica, it is rare for a City Council incumbent to lose a bid for re-election. Some attribute that to the money and backing they attract, others to voter satisfaction. Here's what the Council candidates think.

Since 1994 only two incumbents have lost their bids for reelection. Why do you think that is?


Developer money. Special interests money.


As we all know, the power of incumbency is great, particularly in a down-ticket, low visibility local election. This is why I worked with Mary Marlow and others to put term limits on the November 6, 2018 ballot.

A look at the work of the Santa Monica Transparency Project’s website shows the vast amount of money generally raised by incumbents or spent by PACs on incumbents to maintain the status quo.

I personally have experienced the power of incumbency in successfully seeking endorsements in my current race for City Council from organizations that did not endorse me in 2014 but endorsed the three incumbents in 2018.


That question appears to be drawn from the term limits ballot measure, which would have voters believe the key to incumbent longevity is “the power to raise money from special interests.”

I was elected in 1998 with the promise not to take any corporate or developer money. I have kept that promise, without exception, through four subsequent elections, and into this one. So who are my “special interests,” from whom I have the magic “power to raise money”?

You are. You, the residents of Santa Monica. My campaign finance report just two weeks ago showed that over 85 percent of my contributors are Santa Monica residents, as reported here in The Lookout ("Challengers for Santa Monica City Council Lead Fundraising Race," September 27, 2018).

Yes, with years of service and doing good stuff, my name has become more familiar -- but if access to special interest money is what keeps Councilmembers in office, I am the exception to that rule. . . and proud of it.


Compared to the 80's and 90's, quality of life in Santa Monica has risen significantly. I think many voters don’t spend the time to vote down ballot.

Many voters don’t pay attention to what is going on in the city and know little about the candidates or even who is on the Council. Some Santa Monicans even think Eric Garcetti is their mayor.

I do sense that there are residents who feel the time is now for new leadership. I hope to be that new leader.


Incumbents are reelected because most residents believe the City Council is doing a good job. The City’s AAA bond rating has been maintained since 1994 due to “strong financial management” and healthy reserves. Since 1994 capital improvements included new parks and playgrounds, new libraries, new public safety building, new fire station.

The City weathered the Great Recession better than most areas of the country. Protection of rent control tenants and conservation of existing housing has maintained stable neighborhoods.

The City is on the path to closing the Airport and creating a new park on that land. Local businesses and City sponsored Farmers Markets support the lives of residents. And development of the City fiber network has stimulated technological advances and bolstered the local economy.

As in life, there have been issues to grapple with since 1994, but the community is resilient and on most core issues the community comes together to move forward.


I think there are two reasons for this. First, low contribution limits make it harder for challengers to raise the type of funds necessary to challenge an incumbent and it takes a good deal of money to win an election in Santa Monica. There are massive independent expenditure campaigns that can spend unlimited resources and challengers rarely are able to fight back.

Second, with increasing national polarization, voters are more focused on federal and state elections rather than local elections meaning that unfortunately, many voters may not be paying attention to our local issues quite as much as national ones. Therefore, it is easier to vote to re-elect an incumbent.


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