According to a press release by the political action committee that bankrolled it, the effort to secure enough petition signatures to force a referendum on the direct election of Richardson's mayor has met its goal. Assuming the signatures hold up, the big question now is, what's next?Revolution is not coming to Richardson, it is finally here.
Source: Anonymous online commenter.
After the jump, the road ahead.
Getting enough signatures on the petition is only the first step in getting the system changed. The next steps are for the city to certify the signatures and then for the city council to place the referendum on the ballot at the next election, which would be the November presidential election.
Will the voters of Richardson then approve the charter amendment? If there is no organized opposition, it is hard to see such a ballot measure failing. Letting the citizens vote for their mayor just sounds logical, doesn't it? If there is an organized opposition to the proposed amendment, will it pass anyway? Probably still yes, because elections just sound so dog-gone American.
The questioning voter might ask, if direct election of the mayor really is so obviously logical, why would Richardson's founding fathers not have set it up that way to begin with? Why would Richardson's voters of 1956 have approved a city charter that has the city council select its own presiding officer? Maybe because the founding fathers were all crooked and the voters were all hoodwinked. Or just maybe because there were arguably valid reasons for doing it that way then, reasons that might still apply today, reasons that don't involve corruption and back room power politics (e.g., see here and then, paradoxically, see here).
There are pros and cons to any system of government. The charter commission in 1956 must have spent hours and hours considering all of them, before the voters approved a council-manager form of government with limited duties and responsibilities for the mayor and the current method of choosing that mayor. A voter this November will likely spend mere seconds in the voting booth considering just one detail of that system. Moreover, judging by how many voters turn out in November versus in May, the November voter is likely to be there to vote for president and to be disengaged from city government. Supporters of the petition drive themselves remarked that many people who were approached were surprised when told that Richardson voters didn't directly elect the mayor already. That's the kind of low information voter the organizers depended on during the petition drive and will depend on to pass the referendum in November. Given how little most voters will have considered the matter before they encounter it on the ballot, it's difficult to see those voters choosing to retain a non-intuitive feature from a 1956 city charter.
Will there be any effort at all to defend Richardson's charter and defeat the referendum? That remains to be seen, but it's quite possible everyone will save their effort for the mayoral election to follow in May, 2013.
Tomorrow, I will speculate on how the May, 2013, election will go down. Spoiler alert: that revolution announced by the anonymous commenter above? Not so much.