Smith: Emotions are not the right basis for voting

Years ago, auto pitchman Cal Worthington routinely offered $50 to anyone searching for a new car who came to see him first.

Worthington did this for two reasons, the smaller of which was to give his high-pressure salespeople a chance at closing a deal. For Worthington, it was a numbers game: The more people who came in, the higher number of cars he'd sell. If it cost him $50 every so often, it was a small price to pay.

The larger reason Worthington was content to play Santa Claus was because he understood a basic fact about human nature: Almost all of our daily decisions, big and little, are made on an emotional level, not a rational one. In the auto business, people most often buy the first car they come to see.

Worthington came to mind in a recent review of Costa Mesa's City Council race.

To an outside observer, the city's decision to convert to charter status is apparently the only issue before voters. And though the charter is but one of many key challenges facing residents over the next few years, the candidates have attached themselves to this one like a barnacle on a pier piling.

The charter decision is a big one, to be sure, but it is not the only big one. And there is one element of the charter decision that actually makes it less demanding of our consideration than, say, the Banning Ranch project.

That element is that the charter decision is reversible. If the city converts to a charter, there is nothing preventing residents, save for a vote, from converting back if it proves to be a disaster.

Banning Ranch, however, is another story. Banning Ranch and the 19th Street Bridge, should either or both come to fruition, will permanently affect the city. Whether that effect is better or worse depends on each candidate.

Another larger, permanent issue is business development. Little mention has been made of the vast improvement of the section of Harbor Boulevard from Nutmeg Place to the San Diego (405) Freeway, yet the new businesses and appearance upgrades have turned a run-down portion of the city's main street into a humming economic engine. Those developments are permanent and they went through, unlike the charter vote, without a direct vote of residents — another reason for voters to do their research.

Here, residents should ask the candidates who they would appoint to the Planning Commission should a seat or seats become available. Then it is a matter of determining whether that new person is a slow-growth advocate or a proponent of aggressive development.

Whether or not you like what you see on Harbor Boulevard is not the point. There are enough Eeyores around town who are quick to say that the addition of fast food restaurants there is not the type of development the city needs. But that complaint only serves to underscore the need for voters to make a complete decision in November, not a charter decision.

This emotional decision-making plays out this way: You may or may not like a particular candidate because of his or her personality. Because of your own personal criteria, you may or may not vote for a candidate because he or she is too brusque or too timid, or even physically attractive or unattractive, but none of these are reasons to choose a new City Council member.

Or you may make your decision based solely on the charter issue, which would be a shame too.

There isn't a candidate who has ever run for any office anywhere whose positions on all issues are fully embraced by all voters, or even one voter. Everyone disagrees with a candidate's position on something.

Sadly, though, these other positions are like the red flags we see early in a personal relationship but overlook because we are caught up in emotional moments.

Remember, Worthington made a fortune capitalizing on those emotional moments.

STEVE SMITH is a Costa Mesa resident and a freelance writer. Send story ideas to

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