San Jose voters could be headed to the ballot box in 2020 to decide whether San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo gets an extra two years in office.
But Liccardo told San José Spotlight on Tuesday that he’s not looking to extend his term and wants San Jose to stay in its current mayoral election cycle.
“While I appreciate the importance of voter turnout… it’s critical that our mayoral election focuses on San Jose’s own local issues and challenges, without the distraction of the chronic dysfunction of national politics,” Liccardo said.
This month the City Council will decide whether to draft a ballot measure to shift the mayoral election to a presidential election year instead of a gubernatorial one. Councilors will also ultimately determine whether the change would force a special election for mayor or put Liccardo in the position for potentially two more years.
The push for the switch began last year after Councilmembers Magdalena Carrasco, Chappie Jones, Sergio Jimenez and Don Rocha co-authored the proposal in an effort to boost voter turnout. Data provided by the city shows 13 percent of more voters on average participated in the presidential general election from 1980 to 2018 than the gubernatorial general election.
“It’s one of those areas of reform that is fairly easy to make, but can have a pretty big difference in the level of civic participation in our local elections,” said San Jose State political science professor Garrick Percival.
The initiative has garnered support from notable local groups and figures, including former Federal Elections Commission Chair Ann Ravel, the San Jose/Silicon Valley NAACP, the Asian Law Alliance and the Bay Area office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. They say that the change could boost participation for minorities and lower income individuals.
“Supporting this amendment will help maximize voter turnout and ensure that our democratic institutions are truly representative of the wide range of communities that make ours a remarkable city,” wrote Zahra Billoo, the executive director of the Bay Area office for the Council On American-Islamic Relations.
The city’s fair campaign and political practices board also supported the change, according to a February letter to the council. The group, however, declined to weigh in on what it means for the current mayor’s future, adding that the issue is a policy decision.
At an October council agenda-setting meeting Carrasco was adamant that the issue was not a “power play” or “grab for the office.”
“I don’t know how to make an argument against democracy or voter engagement,” she said. “I recognize sometimes that democracy is inconvenient.”
Percival noted that those opposed to Liccardo getting an extra two years could weigh in at the ballot box if the measure comes to fruition.
“The long term benefits far outweighs any short term conflicts that come with it,” he said.
Councilmember Lan Diep echoed the mayor’s sentiment on keeping the status quo. As a candidate who ran during a presidential election year, he’s previously said the races become clouded with noise from the national conversation.
“Our democracy is only as strong as how engaged our electorate is. People who care vote,” Diep told San José Spotlight. “We must get more people to care… It’s wasteful to spend money on a ballot measure to nudge people into voting for something they didn’t care enough to weigh in on in the first place.”
Diep said at an October meeting that he’d be open to moving the election cycle, but questioned the reasoning as San Jose’s mayor has no true executive power beyond appointing committee members.
The council is tentatively scheduled to hear the proposal at its April 16 meeting. It has previously been deferred multiple times due to more time-sensitive initiatives, according to City Clerk Toni Taber.
City Attorney Rick Doyle said that Liccardo will not have to recuse himself from discussing the ballot measure this month as voters will ultimately decide his fate.
Contact Grace Hase at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow @grace_hase on Twitter.