Less than a year after his election, Lee’s Summit City Councilman Chris Moreno was successfully recalled and removed from office through the efforts of a small but dedicated group of citizens opposed to Moreno’s policies and behavior in office, as well as his history of questionable business dealings.
This group investigated and publicized many reasons why a person like Moreno does not represent the accepted values, morals and behavior of his constituents.
This was not so much about Moreno, however, as it was about an electorate whose apathy and lack of information allowed him to be elected to begin with. There is very little about Moreno’s business and political background that could not have been discovered before his election in April 2016 if anyone had the interest to do so.
Instead, the numbers from that election paint an entirely different picture.
Out of 15,296 registered voters in Moreno’s district, only 1,744, or a paltry 11.4 percent, voted in the 2016 council election. Of those, 949 voted for Moreno. While accounting for 54.4 percent of the votes cast, Moreno was elected by just over 6 percent of registered voters.
And while shocking, our representatives are regularly elected by a small minority of voters. Many candidates know this and take advantage of an electorate that simply isn’t paying attention or doesn’t care.
As citizens, we are lucky that most people who run for elected office, particularly on the local level, are honest, responsible and interested in doing the right thing for their community. But like noxious weeds that thrive on bare ground, other candidates take advantage of apathy and lack of information among their constituents. So long as no one notices, those weeds are free to grow unchecked.
But the Recall Chris Moreno group did notice and took action to eradicate the problem. That effort came to fruition on Election Day when Moreno suffered a landslide defeat, 1,634 (63 percent) to 956 (37 percent). Nevertheless, despite the intensity of the recall and the fact that the ballot also included important school board and city charter issues, the total number of votes still only accounted for less than 17 percent of registered voters in the district.
Perhaps, the greatest irony is that more people voted for Moreno in the recall election than they did when he was elected to begin with. This further demonstrates how many voters were asleep at the switch the first time.
Democracy is only as strong as its citizens are informed and vigilant. Moreno is a prime example of how candidates can thrive on apathy and ignorance. And there are many out there like him at all levels of government. It is a good thing for the citizens of Lee’s Summit and particularly District 4 that the recall effort was successful. But if District 4 voters had done their job to begin with, the recall should have been unnecessary.
This is your Moreno warning. Votes count. Your disinterest and inaction can and will be held against you.
Randy James is a lawyer who lives and practices in Lee’s Summit. He said he lives in a different district than Moreno and was not involved in the recall, but followed it with interest because of its importance to the community.