Public Policy Professor Mark Peterson commented on the intersection of politics and social media in a Daily Bruin article discussing the new generation of millennial politicians. Following a historical shift in the demographics of the House of Representatives after the 2018 midterm elections, young politicians like Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are incorporating their knowledge of social media navigation to engage their followers in the behind-the-scenes of politics. According to Peterson, Ocasio-Cortez’s “interactions on social media are giving a lot of people previously excluded from systems of information a look into an institution that many don’t know a lot about.” Social media engagement appears to be making politics more accessible and interesting to the American public. It remains to be determined what role social media will play in the future of politics, but Peterson said he “understands Ocasio-Cortez’s efforts to document her public service and broadcast it to the average American.”
From left, winners of local elections in the 2018 midterms are Regina Wallace-Jones MPP '99, Nelson Esparza MPP '15, and Jacque Casillas MPP '14.
By Stan Paul and Zoe Day
The November 2018 midterm elections provided an opportunity for several alumni to follow previous officeholders from the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs and put their educational experience and training to the test in local California races, with three Master of Public Policy graduates winning election battles.
Nelson Esparza MPP ’15, an economics instructor at Fresno City College, won a grass-roots bid for Fresno’s city council. His latest win follows a successful campaign in 2016 for a spot on the Fresno County Board of Education in which he unseated a longtime incumbent.
“I attribute my success to the variety of different variables, but my experience at the Luskin School was just invaluable,” said Esparza, who will serve out his school board term until he takes the oath of office for his new role in January. “It wasn’t just the nitty-gritty of the public policy that we got into in the classroom. It was the leadership aspects that I was able to engage in with my peers inside and outside of the classroom and through the different supplemental programs that Luskin offered.”
Esparza said he is excited about the opportunity to impact public policy in Fresno. He cited independent study with Luskin Public Policy Professor Mark A. Peterson and “instrumental” advice from Michael Dukakis, visiting professor of public policy and the 1988 Democratic presidential nominee, as elements contributing to his win.
“And now we have a majority Democrat city council and a majority Latino city council, which is a lot more reflective of what our city looks like,” said Esparza, who has already started assembling his team and policy agenda. “We’re doing the best we possibly can to minimize the learning curve.”
Regina Wallace-Jones MPP ’99 was victorious in her run in East Palo Alto’s city council race.
“I cannot wait to get started with the policymaking. That’s where I am most enthusiastic,” said the chief of staff and head of product operations at eBay. She has also held posts at Yahoo and Facebook.
Wallace-Jones, who focused on technology policy as a student at Luskin, also said that classes such as Dukakis’ course were particularly “useful in sizing up the political opportunity.”
She is the founding board president of StreetCode Academy, a patron of Black Girls Code, a board member for Women Who Code and a partner of the Lean In Foundation.
Jacque Casillas MPP ’14, a nonprofit manager and healthcare advocate with Planned Parenthood of the Pacific Southwest, also won a city council seat in her hometown of Corona.
“I feel like the hard work paid off. We knocked on 10,000 doors in our election and … we fundraised like crazy,” said Casillas, noting that a majority of contributions came from individual donors.
“It’s OK to be outspent but don’t be outworked. You’ve got to be able to do the work,” Casillas said. Early in her campaign, she posted a small number of signs compared to her competition. “Everyone thought it was all over, but, you know, yard signs don’t vote, people vote,” said Casillas, whose goal was to knock on every door twice.
“My Luskin family were among the first folks to donate to my campaign; they were the folks that I called that I didn’t have to explain why the heck I thought this was important or what the heck I thought I was doing,” said Casillas. She noted the generosity and time of local and some out-of-state Luskin alumni — “cohorts past and present”— who phone-banked for her remotely. “It’s Luskin, you know, it’s our network.”
Talking about her first run for office, “Luskin also showed me the value of really diving in to difficult policy questions, and that’s how I really outperformed the competitors,” Casillas said. “My candidate peers had a lot of platitudes to share about decisions that were being made. But during candidate forums, I had more substance and could provide a more thorough perspective on things.”
She also benefited from “the tools of the trade” like cost-benefit analysis and being able to speak in policy terms. “I acquired those skills at Luskin,” she said.
For Casillas, who previously served as a field deputy director for a congressional campaign, serving at the local level is important.
“That’s where decisions are made that impact your everyday life. I’m more of a practitioner. I wanted to make decisions, impact change and see it within five years in my community. That’s why I went back to school and got a master’s in public policy,” she said.
Like her colleagues were for her, Casillas said, “I’m always there for Luskin.”
Peterson, who also holds UCLA appointments in political science and law, congratulated the efforts of former policy students. “There are many valuable ways to be effective change agents, our coin of the realm,” he said. “Few, however, are as potent as becoming one of the actual decision-makers chosen by the voters.”
Two other MPP graduates who threw their hats in the ring this election season garnered second-place finishes in their respective races.
Shana Alex Charles MPP ’01, a professor in Cal State Fullerton’s Department of Public Health, ran for her local school board in Fullerton. Her research focuses on equal access to affordable healthcare in California, health insurance for low-income children and public health policies. At Luskin, she was a teaching assistant for Dukakis.
Mark Anthony Paredes MPP ’02 ran for a seat on Garden Grove’s city council. He is a teacher, health care advocate and former planning commissioner. He also serves as an associate board member for the Boys and Girls Club of Garden Grove.
About these candidates and others before them, Peterson said, “It takes guts, confidence, energy, optimism, hard work, a measure of luck and a thick skin, but there is no better way to become infused in one’s community and, if granted victory, to apply directly the MPP ethos and skills to improve policymaking.”
He continued, “Hats off to our dedicated MPP graduates who took the plunge in the past, in 2018, and who will in the future!”
The website Elite Daily asked UCLA Luskin’s Mark Peterson to weigh in on the remote possibility that Democrats will reclaim control of the Senate in the November 2018 midterm elections. “I think it is first vital to emphasize what a shocker that would be,” said Peterson, a professor of public policy, political science and law. In the event that Democrats beat the steep odds against them, Peterson predicted big battles between the Senate and White House, particularly over judicial appointments and an overhauled legislative agenda that would face President Trump’s veto pen. He also said the chances are slim that a Democrat-controlled Senate would convict the president if he is impeached by the House. “That requires a two-thirds vote in the Senate, which could not be achieved without a significant number of Republicans joining in,” Peterson said. “Given our current politics, that would probably take not only a ‘smoking gun,’ but a ‘smoking bazooka.’ ”
In this video, Maciek Kolodziejczak recalls his 20 years as director of student services with the Department of Public Policy.
By Maciek Kolodziejczak
“A reflection? Who has time to reflect? There are too many tasks at hand, emails to answer, pending projects, deadlines to meet, obligations to fulfill, really … who has time for reflection?”
This is just a snippet of my knee-jerk inner dialogue when I was asked to write something to coincide with my retirement.
I do not want to belittle diligence, persistence and initiative, but too often, in my case, reflection and appreciation are short-changed by the relentless pursuit of tasks, responsibilities, email replies and deadlines that voraciously consume my time.
I used to have a comic posted on my door, which stated “I email, therefore I am.” It may be funny, but it also contains more than a grain of truth. I am writing this post in an academic environment replete with intense endeavor to provide for the public good and to ensure justice and equity.
Nevertheless, I am always reminded of a mentor’s observation that “we are human beings not human doings.” Maintaining the former has been my professional challenge. “Doing” without reflection is just egotism — even if it is for a noble cause. Consequently, I appreciate this time to reflect on my years at the Luskin School.
In recent months I have been asked about my accomplishments. I wince at the question because I really don’t think in these terms. This is not false modesty. Achievements are measurable and quantifiable. Our MPP students are taught rigorous analytic skills to formulate evidence-based policy. However, as I consider my “accomplishments,” I need to acknowledge that my professional successes have been built on the shoulders of those before me, and on the generous collaboration and support of colleagues around me. Consequently, I claim my effort and diligence but take more pride in my aspirations rather than achievements.
The collective mission and aspirations of the Luskin School’s three departments are what drew me here and what have made my tenure here so fulfilling and gratifying. Although I enjoyed my previous work at the UCLA Career Center, I particularly appreciated the undergrads that I was referring to urban planning and social welfare.
I facilitated workshops on careers in urban planning and participated in several career fairs host by the School of Social Welfare in the early 1990s. I first heard of a Master of Public Policy (MPP) when I met a UCLA alum who completed his MPP degree at the University of Chicago. Initially I thought that it was an applied political science degree. It wasn’t until I came to the Luskin School (then called the School of Public Policy and Social Research), that I came to fully appreciate the rigorous analytic curriculum taught in the MPP degree program and its talented and dedicated students.
Becoming familiar with their courses, assignments, Applied Policy Projects and absurdly busy schedules, I gained an unwavering respect for the valuable work they generate. Yet, even more so than their scholastic excellence, I came to appreciate their aspirations, which are reflected in their academics, but also in the various service and leadership activities they pursue.
I began my career at the Luskin School along with its then-new Dean Barbara Nelson, whose vision of the new school emphasized solving problems across boundaries, particularly at the growing intersection of the public, private and nonprofit sectors. She also framed this vision of working across boundaries of various types whether demographic, national or organizational.
Her successor, Dean Frank Gilliam, expanded this notion with an emphasis on social justice and diversity, which is reflected in his legacy, the D3 Initiative. D3 aims to create a cohesive strategy to bridge differences, understand our diverse society and confront disparities in the field of public affairs. I could not be prouder to be working in an environment in which students, faculty and staff embrace these ideals and aspirations. I am equally confident that Dean Gary Segura’s leadership and vision will continue to champion these values.
Beyond the visionary deans who led the School these past 20 plus years, I have been blessed with the dedicated and innovative leadership of three remarkable Department Chairs: Arleen Leibowitz, Mark Peterson and Michael Stoll. I appreciate their patience, wisdom and understanding.
I have been equally fortunate in having the most collaborative and supportive colleagues with Ken Roehrs and Ronke Epps in the beginning, succeeded by Kyna Williams, Nancy Jensen, Dan Oyenoki, Stacey Hirose and, most recently, Sean Campbell and Ervin Huang. You have been a pleasure to work with and made my days here not only productive but also fun and enjoyable. I will stop here because to name all my colleagues for whom I am grateful, this post will become my “One Hundred Years of Gratitude” novel. Suffice to say that the outcome of my reflection on these past 20 years has created a profound gratitude for all the individuals with whom I have worked, collaborated, assisted and who helped me in my endeavors.
Finally, I am so very grateful for the MPP students and alumni. It has truly been an honor to be their adviser. Their presence has given me more than they can imagine. Every year in my parting email to the graduating students I express a version of the following sentiment:
“Although your achievements and accomplishments are noteworthy, I admire you as individuals; the values you embrace, the hopes and dreams for which you strive, and the way you confront the challenges that you face. Your aspirations are a more genuine measure of your character than what you achieve, and for me a source of hope and encouragement about our future.”
As our students commence their professional careers, I am heartened by their determination to solve the many problems facing our world today and the many sacrifices they make in following these pursuits.
In conclusion, I would like to address a major financial sacrifice our students make in completing their degree. Since I began working here at the Luskin School, tuition has increased 460 percent from $4,366/$13,394 (CA Resident/Non-Resident) in 1996-97 to $24,439/$37,221 in 2016-17. I take every opportunity I have to draw attention to the spiraling cost of education and subsequent alarming student debt. So I am particularly honored in having a fellowship named in my honor. It will provide some vital financial relief to our MPP students.
I am humbled by the generosity of the MPP alumni, my friends and colleagues for their considerable donations to this fellowship fund and cannot think of a better way to reward the diligent work and to honor the aspirations of our students.
Maciek Kolodziejczak is retiring in June after serving as director of student services for the Department of Public Policy at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs for the past 20 years. To make a gift to the Maciek Kolodziejczak Fellowship Fund, go here.
Michael Dukakis, center, gestures during the annual luncheon at UCLA Luskin marking the end of his winter quarter teaching assignment at the school. Joining Dukakis was Meyer Luskin, left, and Dukakis's wife, Kitty. Photo by Les Dunseith
By Zev Hurwitz
As the presidency of Donald Trump enters its third month, former Massachusetts governor and Democratic candidate for president Michael Dukakis says he’s seen this before.
At an annual luncheon held in his honor, Dukakis shared his thoughts on the current state of American politics at a roundtable discussion with Luskin faculty and staff.
Dukakis began his discussion of the Trump Administration by drawing a parallel between Trump and Edward J. King, Dukakis’s challenger in the 1978 gubernatorial primary in Massachusetts.
“This guy came out of nowhere, using the same kind of approach and appeal that Trump has,” Dukakis said. “Fortunately, we do have a political system that tends to respond over time very wisely.”
Dukakis teaches courses each winter quarter at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs — a post he’s kept for 21 years. This year, he taught a graduate level course on Institutional Leadership and Public Management.
Public Policy Department Chair Mark A. Peterson introduced Dukakis at the farewell luncheon on March 16, 2017, noting that this year’s installment of the luncheon had an added element of a full roundtable discussion.
“We always have our regular conversation where Mike offers various insight. This time I gave him homework,” said Peterson, who asked Dukakis to frame his conversation around the initial impact on American politics of the Trump administration.
“At this moment in time in the United States, we’re experiencing an unusual model of executive governance and legislative leadership,” Peterson said. “I wanted to ask Mike, who has experienced a lot in that kind of role, to give us kind of a master class.”
Dukakis discussed his take on a variety of policy issues the Trump administration will likely tackle, and expressed his concern over the president’s ability to handle foreign policy issues.
“If he can tell me what we’re doing in Syria, let me know,” he said. “It seems like a mindless running around — where are we going?”
Dukakis, a Democrat, also shared his thoughts regarding the state of the Democratic Party, which controls neither the presidency nor Congress.
“My party’s got to start getting its act together,” he said, noting that he had faith in newly elected Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez. “I think he [Perez] clearly understands that we’ve got to get off this red-blue narrative … this has got to be a 50-state push.”
When asked about his thoughts on President Trump’s ability to govern, given the current structure and membership of the White House staff, Dukakis referred to a quote from longtime friend Gordon Chase, former administrator of New York City’s Health Services Administration.
“He used to say ‘There are three important things in leadership for the public sector: people, people and people,’” Dukakis said. “So much of this has to do with quality and caliber and political skill of the folks you surround yourself with. This guy has got a bunch of characters who are clearly at each other’s throats for reasons I don’t quite understand.”
Among the most concerning for Dukakis is the president’s chief strategist, Steve Bannon, whose rhetoric on immigration comes off as hypocritical, Dukakis said.
“If any ethnic group in this country ought to understand what it’s like to be a reviled immigrant community, it’d be the Irish, because they were,” he said, pointing out Bannon’s Irish heritage. “Working class anti-Catholics won every office in Massachusetts in the 1850s in the Know-Nothing party. Sound familiar?”
Dukakis went on to note that the “competent” parts of the administration were coming from the “more conventional” politicos and Washington insiders on the president’s team, including military leadership.
Master of Public Policy students, staff and faculty gathered Jan. 21 at the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank. Photo by Yasaman Boromand
By Stan Paul
Amid angst and uncertainty over the U.S. presidential transition, a group of students, faculty and staff from the UCLA Luskin Department of Public Policy volunteered a Saturday to help needy people throughout Los Angeles.
More than 30 members of the Association of Masters of Public Policy Students (AMPPS) arrived early in the morning on Jan. 21, 2017, at the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank in Vernon for a day of community service, where they sorted, packed, stacked and combined bins of food onto pallets for distribution to partner organizations that serve thousands of people.
“This is cool. So many volunteers, even on a Saturday. … I like it,” said Siynan Meng, a first-year MPP student. Meng, who is originally from China, said she wanted to experience U.S. volunteer work.
“This is important for us to give back as a cohort and to the community,” said Nikki Lewis, also a first-year student.
She joined with her peers on a fast-moving assembly line adorned with multi-colored stickers indicating the foods to be sorted and packed. Juice, rice, pasta, vegetables and a variety of canned goods were gathered into bags, then placed into bins stacked together to form large cubes.
Joining the effort was the chair of the Public Policy Department, Mark Peterson, who displayed his knack as a natural “wrap artist” by securing large bins of food atop pallet after pallet, circling at a brisk pace to surround the red and blue cubes in swaths of plastic. The pallets were then quickly fork-lifted away.
“Joining with our MPP students and Public Policy Department staff for a Volunteer Day at the L.A. Regional Food Bank warehouse was, to me, truly inspirational,” Peterson said. “Their dedication, spirit and camaraderie were simply infectious.”
Video by Yasaman Boromand
After a few hours of work that went by quickly, the clatter of pallets and frenzy of activity ceased. In total, the morning’s group assembled more than 5,100 units of food for distribution. According to the nonprofit organization’s website, the food bank serves more than 320,000 individuals each month in Los Angeles County.
“A single day packaging food at the food bank will not transform the world, but what these individuals and others like them do each day going forward unquestionably will,” added Peterson. “There is real clarity in contributing to direct and concrete action that will enhance the lives of families and individuals most in need in our own community. “
“This was something everyone can get behind,” said second-year MPP student Ahmed Ali Bob, who served as the group’s student leader for the day. He said the food bank had a strong record of serving the community and helping the homeless and the needy population who live in “food deserts” across the region.
Originally from the Bay Area, Ali Bob said the group wanted to find a non-partisan way to “do good where it is needed, right now.”
“Given the tensions of the recent election, AMPPS wanted to provide an opportunity for people to give back to their community,” said Sydney Ganon, a second-year MPP student and AMPPS member who helped organize the event. “We thought kicking off the winter quarter with an opportunity to do good would be a great way for students and staff to come together, as well as emphasize our personal commitment to improving the world around us.”
Former Congresswoman Lynn Schenck fielded questions from students on subjects ranging from the election to emerging democracies. Photo by Les Dunseith
By Stan Paul
Reaching across the table was good form at a luncheon discussion with a bipartisan group of former members of Congress visiting the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs on Oct. 7.
The former U.S. representatives — two Republicans and two Democrats — and their spouses held informal breakout discussions with Luskin Master of Public Policy (MPP) students and undergrads in the school’s Public Affairs minor program. UCLA Political Science graduate and undergraduate students also participated.
“Congress has come to us,” said Mark Peterson, chair of the Luskin School’s Department of Public Policy, as he introduced the guests, all members of the United States Association of Former Members of Congress (FMC). The Washington D.C.-based nonprofit organization is dedicated to promoting an understanding of the role of Congress and the importance of public service in the United States and abroad.
Lynn Schenck (D-CA, 1993-95) shared her experience in public service and fielded questions from students on subjects ranging from the California ballot to emerging democracies.
“Democracy is hard work,” said the UCLA alumna (BA ’67) and lawyer who served in California Gov. Jerry Brown’s cabinet — in his earlier term — and as deputy secretary for the state’s department of business, transportation and housing. She later became the first woman to represent San Diego in the U.S. House of Representatives.
“You have to have an interest in people,” Schenk advised the future leaders and policymakers, stressing the importance of making connections. “Start now — stay in touch with people.”
Joining Schenck and Pete Weichlein, CEO of the Former Members of Congress Association, were Bob Clement (D-TN, 1987-2003), Phil Gingrey (R-GA, 2003- 2015), and Peter Smith (R-VT, 1989-1991), all of whom had a front row seat to the inner workings of Congress and life in Washington. Conversations with the couples buzzed from the start, a wide range of talking points that included this year’s historic presidential election, the economy, social media, taxes, immigration, super PACs and the pressures of fundraising.
Ramandeep Kaur, a first-year MPP student, said she appreciated the opportunity to participate one-on-one in a discussion with a former Republican representative.
“I am definitely not a conservative Republican but this gets me out of my bubble,” said Kaur, who spoke with Gingrey and his wife, Billie.
Also part of that discussion was MPP student Estefania Zavala, who said she gained insights about the difficulty of working across party lines as well as the time and effort spent on running for re-election. “What I took away from the conversation is that the process needs to be streamlined so that our elected representatives can focus on policy and not partisan politics,” Zavala said.
Axel Sarkissian, a political science major completing the Public Affairs minor at the Luskin School, said that hearing about the day-to-day aspect of governing “from the people who did it” was an invaluable experience.
“As a student of government, I study Congress and policymaking from an academic perspective,” Sarkissian said. “Being able to hear the candid thoughts of political leaders who put these things into practice created an interesting frame of reference for my future studies.”
One topic brought up by students dominated the conversation, said Peter Smith, a former representative from Vermont and founding president of Open College at Kaplan University: “Where did all the partisanship come from at the expense of compromise? When did it change and how can we get it back?”
“I was very impressed with their preparation from their studies and their interest,” said Smith, who also served as a state senator and lieutenant governor in Vermont. “They are looking for ways to be involved in public policy that can be productive.”
The CNN feed that was viewed by students kept a tightly focused view on both candidates throughout the debate. Photo by George Foulsham
By Les Dunseith
The more than 50 Public Policy students who gathered Monday night at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs to watch the first presidential debate had an opportunity to see their political studies play out in real time as an election that has repeatedly defied expectations again seized the public spotlight.
With a reporting team from KTLA Channel 5 on hand to cover the students’ reactions, Public Policy chair Mark Peterson set the stage beforehand by noting the intense public interest in this debate and reminding students of Donald Trump’s recent dramatic surge in political polls. Peterson speculated about how the debate was likely to play out.
“Is Donald Trump going to get red-faced and throw insults at Hillary Clinton? Is she going to get defensive?” Peterson said. “Of all the single events that exist in the election process, we are watching tonight one that may — may — have the potential to move the numbers.”
Well-versed in policy issues, the students knew going in that Clinton would probably show a better grasp of details. Trump, on the other hand, was more likely to be bombastic and speak in generalities. Both would blame the other for the nation’s problems. It would get testy. Insults were likely.
The results did not disappoint. And, in the students’ minds, the debate had a clear winner.
“It was Hillary Clinton,” first-year MPP student Estafania Zavala told KTLA’s Mary Beth McDade after the debate had ended. “She was reasonable. She was skeptical of the things that Trump was saying. She never lost her cool.”
Tony Castelletto, a second-year MPP candidate, agreed that Clinton had the advantage. “Basically, she won it just by being the only adult on stage.”
That kind of skepticism about Trump and his debate performance was shared by other students during the viewing, which, at times, sounded more like a raucous Super Bowl party than a serious-minded political discussion. The room frequently filled with laughter — much of it derisive of Trump — as the candidates sparred around questions and traded quips.
The controversial and combative style that served the Republican candidate well in building fervent support among voters in the primaries did not play well with these Luskin students from diverse cultural and ethnic backgrounds. It also didn’t win Trump favor with former Bernie Sanders supporters, who filled half the room, second-year student Reid Meadows speculated. Yet Meadows, a longtime Clinton supporter, was uncertain about how other voters might respond to the debate.
“I think to a lot of people who aren’t studying politics on a regular basis, it might come off like Donald Trump won it,” Meadows told KTLA.
Zavala, who described herself as less of a Clinton supporter and more of a Trump opponent, said she was surprised by how well Clinton handled herself in the debate. “Clinton was a lot more honest, more humorous, more human than I expected her to be,” she said.
Peterson saw the debate viewing as a valuable learning experience for Public Policy students. “Our MPP students are dedicating their professional lives to careers in public service informed by facts, evidence and analysis, but they know their opportunities for action will also be shaped by the contest of ideas, emotions and values in the political process, often most sharply drawn in the race for the White House,” he said. “What better way for policy students to witness and assess these forces than to have the shared experience of watching and talking together about the crucible of a presidential debate?”
The prevailing conclusion of students milling about after the debate was that Clinton had successfully kept Trump on the defensive. Her air of mild exasperation in reaction to many of Trump’s statements was an effective approach for the setting, they said.
Regarding Trump, however, Peterson noted that it is a challenge for anyone, even political experts like himself, to judge Trump’s debate performance because his approach is so different from that of previous presidential candidates. “We just haven’t had this kind of candidate, or personality, as we have in Donald Trump.”
Overall, the debate held few surprises for Peterson.
“Some of it was what I expected in that it was pretty harsh,” he said. “Hillary Clinton, the longtime politician, was trying to stay within the boundaries of what had been established for the debate. And Donald Trump was trying to push those boundaries and be disruptive.”
Ultimately, it will take awhile before the debate’s results are fully understood.
“Donald Trump was the wild card going into this,” Peterson said. “He, on the one hand, showed somewhat more self-discipline than one might have imagined. At the same time, there was the real Donald Trump there — in your face, interrupting, making certain kinds of characterizations and comments that one would not normally see in a presidential debate. We’ll have to see how the American public reacts to that.”
By Bijan White
The UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs and the California Association of Clerks and Elected Officials brought together a group of distinguished figures from the public and private sectors, including California Secretary of State Alex Padilla, on January 14 to discuss the mechanisms and modernization of the voting process.
With the upcoming 2016 elections in sight, the implications of the vote and the voting process have once more come under question. Experts remind us of the near-sacred importance of the vote as an act of citizenship, as well as the logistical enterprise it represents. The voting process demands the highest level of anonymity, which becomes complicated when faced with the massive scale of the ballot registration and counting process.
Prior to the panel, Mark Peterson, chair of the Luskin Department of Public Policy, commented on the necessity of such discussions. “If there is one institution in American politics which demands clarity and transparency, it’s voting,” Peterson said, emphasizing how important this is in California, which represents such a vast voter base. “We’ve seen the consequences of logistical errors in the voting system in 2000. Democrats were voting for Buchanan in Florida because they could not interpret the layout of the ballot sheets.”
The panel began with opening remarks from Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, associate dean of the Luskin School of Public Affairs. While stressing the importance of the vote, Loukaitou-Sideris mourned its dwindling importance in the collective mind of the youth. “Nowadays, teens are more focused on when they can drive than when they can vote,” she said. However, its importance should not be overlooked, she added. “Many of the great issues our society faces are tackled through the process of voting within our democracy.”
Moderator Dave Bryant, political reporter for KCBS2 and KCAL9, broached the subject of the use of technology in the voter process. “We are looking to the future to modernize the voting process,” Bryant said. “In Los Angeles, for example, voter turnout is in the single digits.”
The need for reform within the voting process to boost voter turnout is rising, but many of the panelists urged caution. “While striving for improvement, the risk of taking one wrong step is great,” said Jeffrey Lewis, chair of the Department of Political Science at UCLA. “We should not be so harsh to judge slow progress.”
Data analyst expert Christopher Hetch stressed the logistical nightmare the voting process represents. “Relying on paper for communication is antiquated,” Hecht said. “We can create new ways to educate people, reach voters and increase turnout.” Reaching voters, providing and making the information needed for the voting process accessible, and providing convenient methods of casting ballots are all factors surrounding voter engagement, he said.
The concept of civic engagement was discussed by Conan Nolan, political reporter for KNBC-TV and host of NBC4’s News Conference, who criticized the lack of civic education in newer generations. “We have lost a sense of training citizens in public education.” Nolan said. “Most voters come from families who voted — they learned the importance of this process.”
Engaging the next generation of citizens, according to Nolan, is a responsibility that the state should embrace because “citizenship is learned.” However, Padilla noted the diverse demographics of the nation. “We can’t assume all families can teach their children about the importance of civic engagement,” Padilla said.
The concept of online voting was discussed and proved to be controversial. “Online voting is not something we are ready for because of security and privacy issues,” Padilla said. The ballot must have the highest degree of anonymity, he added. “The internet provides data, not secrecy.”
But, Hetch countered that “we need to build the trust needed for people to feel comfortable voting online,” arguing that there are currently ways to ensure the security needed for online voting. Others, such as Nolan, rejected the concept based on principle. “The spirit of our most sacred right is manifested in going to the voting center with your fellow citizens.” The concept of online voting degrades that ideal, Nolan said.
Despite the obstacles and disagreements presented by the panelists, many palpable solutions were presented, some of which are already underway. Padilla noted the establishment of Senate Bill 450, which will allow California counties to implement a new elections model that includes mailing every voter a ballot, expanding early voting and enabling voters to cast a ballot at any vote center within their county.
In conclusion, Lewis captured the essence of the debate: “We should strive to make it so that no one who desires to vote ends up unable to do so.”
By Alejandra Velarde-Reyes
UCLA Luskin Student Writer
Though Michael Dukakis, the popular three-term Massachusetts governor and 1988 Democratic presidential hopeful, has had a multitude of experiences and stories he could tell, he takes pride in sharing the success stories of former students he remembers teaching at the Luskin School of Public Affairs.
Thinking back on some of his most memorable experiences teaching at Luskin as a visiting professor of Public Policy, Dukakis proudly recalls the day his former teaching assistant, Rusty Bailey (MPP ‘99), became mayor of the City of Riverside.
“That was his ambition,” Dukakis remembers of Bailey. “We spent time making personal contact with every house and every voter. He was elected city counselor and six years later he was elected mayor.”
The story is just one instance of many that demonstrate Dukakis’ interest in his students. This year marks the 20th year that the well-known and oft-quoted politician and professor has been teaching at UCLA Luskin.
Dukakis says that when his time as governor came to an end and he knew he wouldn’t be taking up residence on Pennsylvania Avenue, he had to ask himself what to do next. He recognized he had a desire to share his knowledge, and with the wealth of knowledge and experience in successful public service, he decided to parlay that passion into work with young people. His goal: to inspire them to also seek careers in public service. After teaching at Northeastern University for a few years, Dukakis planted his flag at UCLA.
Through his courses, “Institutional Leadership and the Public Manager” and “California Policy Issues,” he has inspired many students to enter the field of government and public service. Whether students come in for his regular office hours or contact him from across the country, Dukakis says he always tries to makes time for individuals who come to him for guidance.
Mayor Bailey says because of the years of mentorship he received, he now patterns his work after Dukakis’s leadership style.
“Personal connection and relationships are important to Michael, and he gives his undivided attention when he speaks to people,” Bailey says. “He also is very committed and leads by example…All of these things have influenced my leadership style in my elected office.”
Though Bailey thinks Dukakis would have influenced history and the country in a powerful way had he won in ‘88, he believes the influence his former professor has as an educator and mentor is just as powerful.
“I think those of us who love what we’ve done, whether a doctor or a politician, we enjoy teaching and encouraging young people to follow in our footsteps,” Dukakis says. “I spend a lot of time with my students to talk about their futures.”
In addition to seeing Bailey climb to mayorship, Dukakis excitedly recounts the stories of other successful former students. Among them: Veronica Melvin, who leads a nonprofit organization for improving schools in Los Angeles County, and Matt Dababneh and Jimmy Gomez, who serve as committee chairs in the California Assembly and represent areas near Los Angeles.
“In many ways, working with students is the best thing I do,” Dukakis says. “ I feel strongly about this country and the world, and the importance of getting young people deeply and actively involved (in public service).”
When students come to him for advice and mentorship, Dukakis emphasizes the importance of optimism. “You have to be passionate about what you’re doing. You have to hold high standards of integrity for yourself and the people you work with, and you have to be good at bringing people together,” he says.
Urban Planning student Ben Kaufman says he was surprised when he first emailed Dukakis with the hopes of getting advice on which graduate schools he should apply to.
“I thought it was a ludicrous idea to Google a previous presidential nominee’s contact information, cold-email him, and expect a response,” Kaufman says. “But I did just that, and amazingly, he followed up within a couple of hours.”
The following week, Kaufman says he had an hour-long conversation with Dukakis during which the seasoned politician recounted old war stories and listened to Kaufman’s plans and goals for the future. After receiving a recommendation letter from Dukakis, Kaufman was admitted to UCLA a few months later.
“It’s amazing to me how kind and genuine he is as a person outside of the classroom, no matter whom he is speaking with,” Kaufman says.
Public Policy chair Mark Peterson agrees that Dukakis has been a true asset to the department as a skilled teacher giving students an unique perspective on politics, policy and public management.
“With a door that is always open, Dukakis avails himself to all who want to discuss current affairs, the coming election, next steps in their educations and long-term career choices,” Peterson says. “A devoted friend of the department and UCLA Luskin, Mike’s spirit resonates throughout the Public Affairs Building.”
Bailey cites examples of the former governor’s humility and leadership in everyday life as well, recalling the time after Dukakis’ service in elected office ended, and he asked the U.S. Postmaster General for permission to paint over graffiti on mailboxes.
“He would go around with a can of paint in his hometown and paint over the graffiti,” Bailey says.
In another incident, Bailey remembers Dukakis humbly declining a first-class seat that a flight attendant offered him.
“He replied without skipping a beat, ‘No I want to sit in the back with the Democrats,’” Bailey says. “That speaks volumes about his character and leadership style. It’s always been about public service and doing the right thing, and not about politics.”
Dukakis describes his typical day as beginning at 5 a.m., spending time with students, and doing a fair amount of public speaking outside of teaching. Despite his busy schedule, he enjoys coming to Los Angeles each winter quarter and being a part of the UCLA community.
“One of the great things about teaching is that you walk into a ready-made community,” he says. “You become a part of this community and don’t spend time wandering from friends. I’ve gained some wonderful friendships (at UCLA).”
Outside of his life as a professor, mentor and public speaker, Dukakis says he likes living in Westwood with his wife, Kitty, walking to campus, and enjoying the skyline of downtown Los Angeles from his window on clear days.
“Our favorite pastime is taking a brisk two-mile walk down Ocean Drive in Santa Monica and eating oysters by the beach. We know people around the whole region. It’s been really great,” he says. “It’s gratifying to be in a position to encourage young people and inspire them. I’m hoping I’m contributing to this country and the world.”
In honor of Gov. Dukakis’ 20th year as a UCLA faculty member, friends of UCLA Luskin will join together at a lunch in support of the Michael S. Dukakis Internship in Public Service. The fundraiser aims to raise $250,000 for the internship program and to expand the opportunities it provides for students who are seeking careers in public service. To learn more about attending the lunch and supporting the internship program, contact Melissa Bersofsky at email@example.com.