Jim Newton Receives 2022 Carey McWilliams Award Editor-in-chief of UCLA Blueprint magazine receives honor recognizing journalistic contributions to society’s understanding of politics  

By Les Dunseith

UCLA’s Jim Newton is the winner of the Carey McWilliams Award, which honors a journalist or organization each year for intellectual forthrightness and political independence.

Newton is the founding editor-in-chief of Blueprint magazine, which is based at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs. He’s also a lecturer in the departments of public policy and communications studies.

The McWilliams Award has been given since 1982 by the American Political Science Association in memory of a California lawyer who became an influential political leader, author and editor. McWilliams edited The Nation magazine from 1955 to 1975 and wrote landmark books that focused on migrant farm workers in California and the World War II internment of Japanese Americans.

“I’m deeply honored by this prize and especially by the thought that it binds my name, in some small way, to that of McWilliams, who has long been a personal polestar of integrity and wisdom,” Newton said.

The award, which recognizes Newton’s work at UCLA and other accomplishments, was officially presented Sept. 14 in Montreal at the association’s annual meeting. He has written several books about historical figures of political importance with a California connection, including former CIA chief and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, Supreme Court Justice Earl Warren and former Gov. Jerry Brown. At the Los Angeles Times, he was a reporter, editor, columnist, bureau chief, editorial page editor and editor-at-large.

Past recipients of the award include well-known broadcast journalists such as Judy Woodruff, Bill Moyers, Lesley Stahl and Nina Totenberg; other respected newspaper writers such as Seymour Hersh, Molly Ivins and Ronald Brownstein; authors and professors; plus chroniclers of political discourse from a diverse array of outlets that includes the New York Times, Washington Post, Cook Political Report, the Congressional Quarterly, National Public Radio and the Huffington Post.

UCLA Luskin colleague Zev Yaroslavsky first became aware of Newton’s tough-but-fair journalistic approach during his time as an elected official in Los Angeles.

“Jim’s coverage of the LAPD — and the reforms spawned by the Rodney King beating and the Rampart scandal — is still the gold standard” for news reporting in Los Angeles, Yaroslavsky wrote in a letter recommending Newton for the McWilliams award.

Henry Weinstein, a former L.A. Times colleague who is now on the faculty at UC Irvine Law, also wrote an award nomination letter. “He is a potent and graceful practitioner of what I call ‘the Journalism of Illumination’ — articles and books that take a reader deep into important subjects, regardless of whether they occurred yesterday or 75 years ago — just as McWilliams did in an earlier era.”

A third recommendation letter came from a former Times colleague who has continued to work with Newton as a frequent writer for UCLA Blueprint, Lisa Fung. She praised Newton’s ability to build connections among the worlds of politics, journalism and academia.

It’s become increasingly difficult to understand the motivations of government and policy officials, but through his work as a writer, editor, author and educator, Jim is leading the charge to bring about change and to show people why they should care,” Fung wrote.

Newton said his appreciation of McWilliams grew while writing his book about Warren, the former chief justice of the United States. In fact, as governor of California, Warren clashed with McWilliams and actually fired him from a government job in part because he was an outspoken critic of the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II.

“McWilliams is the only principled person at the time who stood up and said, ‘This is a bad idea,’” Newton said.

He founded Blueprint magazine, which is based at the Luskin School and distributed online and in print twice yearly, as a way to connect intellectuals to policymakers in light of what he perceives as a growing need.

“The policy universe, in particular, had really been stripped of a lot of its research apparatus just over the time that I had been covering it,” Newton said. “It’s true at the city, county and state levels — legislative analysts just don’t have the firepower they once did.”

Filling that gap was the germinating notion of Blueprint, which often highlights academic researchers who are tackling policy questions.

“Let’s make policymakers aware of the research that might inform policy, and let’s also engage researchers in what’s going on in the policy universe,” Newton said.

He imagines an elected official facing a difficult policy issue and eager to find a fresh, independent perspective.

“Instead of just listening to labor or business, you realize that there’s some thoughtful, nonpartisan research that’s being done that can help guide you to a good answer,” said Newton, whose goal is making scholarly research accessible to a non-academic audience.

 “We don’t want it to be an academic journal,” he explained. “That’s why it’s brightly colored, and it’s designed the way it is, with illustrations and graphical presentations in print and online.”

UCLA scholars are often featured, but the magazine’s focus extends beyond the university.

“So, we write about Norman Lear or David Axelrod or Joe Stiglitz or Jerry Brown — people who are broadly interesting and who are concerned with culture and politics and civic life,” Newton said.

Blueprint’s press run has been reduced in recent years amid financial constraints, and a plan to publish quarterly instead of twice-yearly was shelved in part because of pandemic-related challenges. But Newton is hopeful for a return to the magazine’s full reach — and even expansion. Meanwhile, production has endured, and reporting for the fall edition is currently underway.

“It’s themed around fear,” said Newton, who noted that fear can be constructive when it drives urgency of action around issues like homelessness or climate change. But, of course, fear also has the potential for harm as a tool for some politicians.

“Immigration would be a good example of the kind of illogical fear of other people that results in policy that’s profoundly misguided,” he said.

The theme is particularly timely with political rhetoric heating up as midterm Congressional elections and races for mayor of Los Angeles and the governor of California loom in November. Fear not, the next edition of Blueprint will be available in mid- to late-October to shed light on the political shadows. 

UCLA’s Jim Newton receives the Carey McWilliams Award from Lisa Martin, president-elect of the American Political Science Association. Photo from APSA

 

 

Former Governors Wilson, Davis Discuss Housing, Crime and More at Luskin Summit The two leaders, a Republican and a Democrat, express their differing perspectives on 'The State of California'

By Les Dunseith

Former California governors Pete Wilson and Gray Davis headlined the closing session of Luskin Summit 2022: Research in Action on April 22, often tackling political issues from starkly different perspectives.

In a session moderated by UCLA Blueprint Editor-in-Chief Jim Newton and titled “The State of California,” the former governors explored topics such as the economy and inflation, housing, environmental issues and rising crime during a discussion that mostly reflected a tone of respectful disagreement.

The governors spoke during a half-day event at the Luskin Conference Center at UCLA to close out this year’s Luskin Summit, which is a series of research-informed, cross-sector explorations of the major issues facing Los Angeles and California. The day’s agenda also included the unveiling of the annual Quality of Life Index led by Zev Yaroslavsky, a well-known former elected official in Los Angeles who, like Newton, is now a faculty member associated with the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.

Yaroslavsky’s session, which was moderated by news anchor Phillip Palmer of ABC7, explained why the rating in his survey of Los Angeles County residents fell to its lowest point in seven years of existence. A majority of respondents said they are dissatisfied with the overall quality of their lives as reflected in nine categories, including cost of living, education, the environment and public safety. And those topics were also front of mind during the governors’ discussion.

Wilson, a Republican who was California governor from 1991 to 1999, took note of the current $80 billion revenue surplus in California, saying that if current lawmakers can’t solve the state’s shortcomings, it won’t be for lack of funds.

“The state is rolling in money. That’s not the problem,” he said when asked by Newton to speculate on the public’s downbeat mood. “The way it is spent is what’s causing a lot of the dissatisfaction. There are people who are very much concerned about crime because they’ve seen a dramatic shift, a really discernible shift. And they’re concerned about their children’s education, and they should be.”

Davis, a Democrat who was governor of California from 1999 to 2003, took a different tack on Californians’ current mood in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“There’s a lot of good news globally, nationally and in California as it relates to people working again, and lower unemployment rates,” he said. “The bad news is that people have been through a very tough time. This has been two-and-a-half years where we’ve been told we can’t do this, we can’t do that. … People don’t like to be told what they can’t do.”

Solving society’s problems will require innovation, Davis said, and California is the right place. The number of U.S. patents that originated in California in recent years, he said, is roughly four times the number originating in the state that comes in second, Texas.

“If you want to invent something, this is the place to do it, in California,” he said. “We invent, we design, we create.”

Davis took note of the setting, a public research university in a state that is widely respected for its institutions of higher education. Mentioning that UCLA Chancellor Gene Block was in attendance, Davis continued, “There is nothing better about California than its 10 UC campuses. Nobody in the country has anything close to this.”

Block provided the introduction for the session, noting that Los Angeles faces substantial challenges relating to public safety, the ongoing pandemic and a shortage of affordable housing.

“These issues are bearing down on people all across the state. We’re not alone,” Block said. “Addressing them is going to require scholars, businesspeople, community leaders to really work together and devise and enact solutions.”

Noting the presence of the two former governors, Block continued. “Wisdom is gained by experience, and we have a vast amount of that here.”

Newton, a former reporter and editor at the Los Angeles Times whose books include a recent biography of two-time governor Jerry Brown, asked Wilson and Davis to talk about their approaches to public safety.

Davis acknowledged crime rates are on the rise, although not to “where they were in the ’90s when Pete Wilson and I were a governor.”

One solution, he said, lies in effective law enforcement.

“Police have to be part of the equation,” said Davis, acknowledging past abuses by some officers. “Anyone who saw the video of the George Floyd murder knows it was appalling, not acceptable, and should never happen again. But there are some common-sense reforms that I think most law enforcement agree with.”

He called for a balanced approach. “The police have to behave in a respectful way, treat people with dignity, in a way that commands respect.”

Wilson echoed the sentiment. “It’s called community policing. And it makes great sense, as does treating people respectfully when you stop them as a police officer.”

In his view, however, effective law enforcement is too often undermined by a lenient criminal justice system, especially regarding violent crime.

“I think I was the first governor in the country to sign — what was also subsequently in the same year, an initiative measure — that was called three strikes. And what it did was to focus on recidivism, on the people who were career violent criminals. … It’s not fair to play with people’s lives by letting people out on the street who are known violent criminals.”

Davis countered by pointing to a shortcoming of taking a hard-line approach to crime — overcrowded prisons that tend to perpetuate societal and racial inequities. Incarceration without rehabilitation doesn’t work either.

“Getting people to transition from prison back to productive life requires an extraordinary amount of help,” he said.

Perhaps no public policy issue better represents the divide between the haves and have-nots in California than the housing crisis. At a time when many homeowners are sitting on a fortune in housing equity, millions of people in the state struggle to pay rent. Some end up homeless.

“The California legislature has to get serious about making housing more affordable,” Davis said.

He pointed to legislation pending in Sacramento that would allocate $25 billion to an agency that could help potential homebuyers with a down payment and closing costs. Another effort in the private sector is offering 10% of a home’s down payment in exchange for 25% of the homeowner’s future equity.

“I’m not saying it’s perfect, but that’s on the right track,” Davis said.

Wilson pointed to the California Environmental Quality Act, known as CEQA, passed in 1970 and signed by then-governor Ronald Reagan, as a major hurdle to building more affordable housing in the state.

“The best single thing that could happen is for CEQA to be reformed because that has held up the construction of homes,” said Wilson, who decried the long wait that developers often face to clear the environmental protection review process. “It has hugely added to the delay in providing housing. And that has cost a fortune in terms of the ultimate buyer.”

But the legislation still has value, Newton said. “It is protective of the environment. No?”

Davis jumped into the discussion.

“Look, the original idea was: If Caltrans was building a freeway, the public should comment on it, and it should be thoroughly debated before it occurs,” he said.

Today, circumstances have changed, and the focus has turned to building homes for the state’s large population. Environmental reviews and public hearings about land use take time, but there are ways to shorten the process.

“The good news is we are making some progress,” Davis said. “When it comes to the homeless — anything for the building of shelter for the homeless and for all the services attended to in mental health and social services — all those buildings should be exempt [from CEQA].”

Newton also asked the governors to weigh in on another hot button topic, giving some of the state’s budget surplus back to Californians.

“Absolutely. I mean, gas prices are near a record high,” Davis said.

“Well, I think that it’s not bad, but it’s like dipping into [the country’s] petroleum reserve, it’s not the answer,” Wilson said.

Newton pressed forward, seeking to clarify that both former governors think the current governor, Gavin Newsom, should send a portion of the California surplus back to the state’s residents.

“We have a big surplus. It should be used for one-time expenditures like this,” Davis said.

“If it’s a one-time, modest solution, that will help,” Wilson said.

“You do agree,” Newton said, smiling. “I was surprised.”

Soon after, Newton thanked the former elected officials for their years of government service and their willingness to participate in a public discussion of political issues seen from their different vantage points.

“We all will disagree on things,” Newton said to the in-person audience and those watching online. “I think it’s too commonplace these days to assume that disagreement is [just cause] to be enemies. And it’s heartening to have the both of you here to show otherwise.”

Watch a recording of the session:

See additional photos from both April 22 sessions on Flickr:

Luskin Summit 2022 Closing Sessions

Luskin Housing Scholars Weigh In on California’s Crisis

A UCLA Newsroom article on how to tackle California’s affordable housing crisis cited several scholars from UCLA Luskin. Associate Professor of Urban Planning and Public Policy Paavo Monkkonen sees the housing crisis as a combination of “unaffordability, instability and inability to house” and has urged the state to “use many levers to push cities to allow more new housing.” Los Angeles Initiative Director Zev Yaroslavsky has cautioned against changes that fundamentally undermine the character of neighborhoods. He suggested increasing zoning capacity but allowing the city to decide where it should take place. “You don’t need to destroy communities,” Yaroslavsky said. Associate Professor of Urban Planning and Public Policy Michael Lens highlighted the urgent need for more money for permanent supportive housing. The article was written by Jim Newton, editor of UCLA’s Blueprint magazine, who concluded that the competing arguments “reflect and shape California’s ongoing and urgent search for ways to adequately house every resident of the state.” 


Yaroslavsky, Newton on the L.A. Riots and Police Chief Gates

Los Angeles Initiative Director Zev Yaroslavsky and Blueprint editor Jim Newton joined the Slate podcast “Slow Burn” to discuss the aftermath of the Rodney King beating in March 1991. A tape of the beating exposed brutality within the Los Angeles Police Department, prompting many to call for Chief Daryl Gates to step down. At the time, the LAPD “saw itself as a paramilitary organization, primarily white and male, and viewed its fundamental charge as maintaining the peace,” Newton said. Yaroslavsky pointed out that the police commission could fire Gates only for a case of moral turpitude. “It was never an issue of whether he would be fired; the issue was whether he could be persuaded to leave,” Yaroslavsky said. The Christopher Commission, launched by former Mayor Tom Bradley and chaired by Warren Christopher, recommended that Gates step down; he did not retire until June 1992.


Newton on Forces Shaping California’s Recall Vote

Jim Newton, editor of UCLA’s Blueprint magazine, spoke to the New York Times and Washington Post about California’s recall election, which ended in a decisive victory for Gov. Gavin Newsom. “There was never an intelligent rationale for this recall, and the people saw through it,” Newton told the Post. “And he got his people out, and that of course was the great fear heading into the vote, that too many Democrats would take the outcome for granted.” The New York Times piece focused on calls for reforming California’s centuries-old laws on recalls and referendums. Any changes are likely to be opposed by Republicans, who see the tradition of direct democracy as a key avenue of influence in a Democrat-led state. Newton commented, “The general premise that the initiative, referendum and recall are intended to curb the influence of powerful special interests has been tipped entirely on its head and it has now become the tool of special interests.”

 

Newton on Villanueva’s Uncertain Future

Jim Newton, editor of UCLA’s Blueprint magazine, spoke to the Los Angeles Times about L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva’s decline in favorability since his shift to the political right. In 2018, Villanueva campaigned for sheriff as a relatively unknown Democratic candidate and promised police reform and transparency. However, since being elected, Villanueva has resisted calls for greater transparency, pursued controversial hires and resisted multiple subpoenas. The sheriff responded to the growth of the Black Lives Matter movement and widespread demands for police reform by publicly rebuking local elected Democrats and working to increase the number of people permitted to carry concealed guns in Los Angeles County. The story cited UCLA’s 2021 Quality of Life Index, which found that Villanueva’s favorability has decreased since he was elected; he will be on the ballot for reelection in 2022. “Whether Villanueva is vulnerable depends in huge measure on who runs against him,” Newton said. “Without a credible opponent, none of this really matters.”


Newton on Jenner’s Race for Governor

Jim Newton, editor of UCLA’s Blueprint magazine, spoke to Vox about Caitlyn Jenner’s decision to run as a Republican candidate in the race to recall Gov. Gavin Newsom. Jenner, a former Olympian and reality TV star, helped increase transgender visibility through her own transition. However, her support for former President Donald Trump and other conservative colleagues who have attacked the trans community have alienated her from the liberal trans community. “If her base is trans-sympathetic Republicans, well, that’s not 51%,” Newton said. “But in this race, if there are enough candidates, and they divide up the vote enough ways, she could win with a lot less than that.” Still, more than half of voters would need to vote to recall Newsom for that to happen. “If California continues to battle COVID successfully in the fall, then I think it’s very hard for me to imagine that [Newsom] gets recalled,” Newton said. “Then it doesn’t matter where Jenner gets her support.”


Newton Weighs In on Efforts to Recall Newsom

Lecturer Jim Newton spoke to the Washington Post about Gov. Gavin Newsom’s approach to handling the COVID-19 pandemic. After winning the 2018 election with 62% of the vote, Newsom is now facing a recall effort caused by frustrations about his approach to the pandemic. In March 2020, Newsom announced a statewide stay-at-home order, which would be followed by a year of closing and reopening. “As it wore on, he seemed more vacillating, that there seemed to be a sort of uncertainty about how quickly to move to reopen,” Newton said. “It felt like the voices pressing for opening were starting to get to him.” However, Newton acknowledged that the circumstances were unprecedented. “I don’t know that he could have done it perfectly and I don’t know that there was a perfect way to do it,” he said. “He’s managed to be a little bit between the extremes and a little bit disappointing to people in both camps.”


Newton on San Diego’s Unexpected Shift to Blue

Lecturer Jim Newton spoke to Voice of San Diego about the city’s shift in support of the Democratic Party. After years of being a Republican stronghold, San Diego County has voted blue in the last four presidential elections. When asked in 1989 if deeply conservative Orange County would ever turn blue, Newton imagined it might happen sometime in his grandchildren’s lifetime. However, Barack Obama won San Diego County in the 2008 presidential election, and Orange County joined the movement in 2016 and 2020 by voting for Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden. Newton pointed to the rise of the environmental movement and the increase in Latino voters for the shift. He explained that since the GOP drifted toward big business, “it’s hard to take the environment seriously and associate with the Republican Party.” He also noted that the GOP has become associated with deportation and intolerance in California. “It may take time, but political worlds shift,” he said.