It’s been 34 years since a woman was elected to the Paso council. It’s time to change that

Outgoing Paso Robles City Councilwoman Betty Cousins received a street sign naming her an honorary traffic engineer as she completed her term in 1988.
Outgoing Paso Robles City Councilwoman Betty Cousins received a street sign naming her an honorary traffic engineer as she completed her term in 1988.

Two seats on the Paso Robles City Council will be decided in the November election. One of those should go to Maria Elena Garcia.

Of the three non-incumbents, Garcia is by far the strongest candidate. She’s enthusiastic, willing to learn and she appreciates the challenges facing young working families. She would be a vocal advocate on issues such as affordable housing.

She also could become only the third woman in city history to be elected to the council. (More on that later.)

Garcia, who has worked as a pharmacy technician for 30 years, has an impressive background of public service: She the co-founder of the Hispanic Business Association and serves on the Library Board of Trustees, among other civic involvements.

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The Tribune endorses John Hamon, left, and Maria Elena Garcia for Paso Robles City Council. Joe Johnston jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

Another plus: Garcia, a first-time candidate, would bring ethnic diversity to the City Council, which is a huge issue right now in Paso Robles.

In a bid to increase Latino representation in city politics, a voting rights group recently called on the city to switch from at-large elections to district elections, which are similar to elections for county supervisors. Under the district model, the city would be divided into voting areas and candidates would have to live in the districts they represent.

As evidence of the need for district elections, the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project reports that, prior to the current election, it had been 20 years since a Latino candidate had run for city office, even though Latino residents make up 30 percent of the city population.

Although Paso officials don’t believe it’s necessary in a city so small, the council appears likely to make the change to avoid the expense of fighting a lawsuit filed by the voting rights organization.

Regardless of what happens in the future, Garcia would be a strong voice for younger people and Latinos.

She also would bring gender diversity to the all-male council. Paso Robles voters last elected a woman to the council in 1984 — 34 years ago. Betty Cousins served until 1988.

Prior to that, city records show that Natalia Stockdale served on the council from 1972 until 1976.

Election records dating back to 1930 show no other woman winning a council seat, and most years there weren’t even women candidates.

It appears highly likely that if Garcia is elected, she will be only the third woman in Paso Robles history to serve on the council. (If any history buffs out there have other information, please let us know.)

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For the other seat on the council, incumbent John Hamon has the experience, background and dedication required.

Not only has he served on the City Council for three terms, he also has been a member of regional boards, such as the Air Pollution Control District Board of Directors and the Integrated Waste Management Authority board.

Hamon, who runs a small business, has also served as a volunteer firefighter and has been involved in scouting and other volunteer activities. He’s long been dedicated to the slogan: “Live within our means,” and says his top concern is the city’s employee pension obligation. In other words, he’s the type of fiscal watchdog every city needs.

The Tribune Editorial Board strongly urges Paso Roblans to elect Maria Elena Garcia and John Hamon to the City Council.