The San Francisco Elections Commission is considering terminating its contract with its elections director John Arntz—one of the city’s most highly esteemed civil servants—citing concerns about “racial equity.” Arntz, who is white, will need to reapply next year if he wants to keep his job.
The commission voted 4-2 last week to “open a competitive search” for Arntz’s position, which he has held for two decades, rather than to renew his contract automatically, Cynthia Dai, a member of the commission, told the Washington Free Beacon. That decision, Dai said, was “driven in large part by the city’s plan for racial equity,” which requires all departments and commissions to address internal racial disparities.
“It’s hard to achieve diversity targets if senior roles never open up,” said Dai, who voted in favor of the search process. “This has nothing to do with his performance.”
The vote by the commission, whose members are appointed rather than elected, sparked pushback from elected officials, who credit Arntz with cleaning up a broken system. Before Arntz took the helm, San Francisco’s chief attorney David Chiu (D.) told Mission Local, a San Francisco-based newspaper, the city “had five directors in as many years, ballot boxes floating in the bay, and an intense lack of confidence in city elections.”
San Francisco mayor London Breed (D.) went so far as to imply that the commission was putting free and fair elections at risk. “John Arntz has served San Francisco with integrity [and] professionalism and has stayed completely independent,” Breed told Mission Local. “He’s remained impartial and has avoided getting caught up in the web of city politics, which is what we are seeing now as a result of this unnecessary vote.”
Aaron Peskin (D.), a member of the city’s board of supervisors, called the commission’s decision “malfeasance.”
The divide between elected officials and the elections commission is a variation on a familiar theme: From discriminatory hiring programs in corporate America to the race-based rationing of COVID drugs, progressive identity politics have advanced faster through unelected bureaucracies than through democratic channels, where the public typically vetoes overt racialism.
That’s true even in liberal bastions like California, where voters have overwhelmingly rejected affirmative action. And in February, more than 70 percent of San Francisco voters supported the recall of school board members who dismantled merit-based admissions to Lowell High School, the city’s most academically rigorous public school, in an effort to diversify its student body. In June, the board reinstated the old admissions system.
Though Californians have consistently rejected identitarian policies, they have also created cover for them: San Francisco’s racial equity plan, which motivated the commission’s vote, was created by the very same elected officials who say Arntz’s ouster would be a disaster for the city.
Breed signed a law in 2019 mandating the development of a citywide “racial equity framework,” which all departments, including the Election Commission, are required to follow. The law was cosponsored by Peskin, the member of the board of supervisors who called the commission decision “malfeasance”—and who in 2020 said the new framework would “make our city more just.”
Before becoming San Francisco’s chief attorney, Chiu introduced a similar law while serving as a representative in the California State Assembly. The bill, which is working its way through the legislature, would create an “Office of Racial Equity” tasked with closing racial disparities throughout the state government.
California has prohibited affirmative action in government hiring since 1996. If Arntz is still the most qualified candidate after a competitive search, Dai said, he will have his contract renewed.