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LPPI Hits the Road to Assist Legislators in Battleground State UCLA team holds two days of roundtable discussions and provides technical assistance to lawmakers during workshop in Arizona

A group of lawmakers in Arizona are “breaking cycles of poverty,” Arizona Sen. Otoniel “Tony” Navarrete told fellow legislators attending a two-day workshop in mid-January at Arizona State University organized by the UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Initiative (LPPI).

Navarrete was one of eight lawmakers who participated in the sessions put together by LPPI in partnership with the National Association of Latino Elected Officials (NALEO) and the Center for Latina/os and American Politics Research at Arizona State University. The workshops were a continuation of a leadership academy held at UCLA in August 2019.

The Arizona lawmakers are serving in what could be a battleground state during this presidential election year, and they are also marking 10 years since the passage of a controversial anti-immigrant bill in the state. The effects of the Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act, otherwise known as SB 1070, are still being felt in Arizona.

While keeping a focus on the state’s younger electorate, the lawmakers have started their 2020 legislative session with education at the forefront of their efforts.

Understanding children is the first step to creating evidence-based policies centered around their needs, according to workshop speaker Kelley Murphy, director of early childhood policy at Children’s Action Alliance. She reviewed statewide trends relating to Arizona’s youngest children and took a deep dive into data about access to quality care and education during early childhood.

Legislators also engaged in a meaningful conversation about Arizona’s emerging dual language learners and how to craft purposeful policy to advance student success.

They sought to better understand how young children learn. Viridiana Benitez, assistant professor of psychology at ASU, explained how language acquisition and cognitive development play a crucial role in the educational foundation and outcomes for young children.

Such an understanding is especially important to politicians in a state like Arizona, where the bilingual electorate is increasing and may be influential during 2020 elections.

Edward Vargas, a professor in the School of Transborder Studies at Arizona State, continued the conversation by focusing on polling trends and how such data provide information on public opinion and voters’ priorities. Lawmakers looked at the latest trends on the issues of early education, and they were encouraged to think of creative ways to further develop their ability to solicit effective constituent feedback through polls.

Legislators were asked to apply the information on childhood education by thinking through effective data collection and usage in order to reinforce efforts in education, keeping in mind messaging and voters’ priorities.

“What impacted me the most was the legislators’ desire to truly understand the data and use it effectively in order to make sound policies,” said María Morales, a second-year master of public policy student at UCLA and a fellow at LPPI. “It shocked me to know that it [typically] takes about 17 years for a researcher’s findings to be made public and reach the policy-creation-and-implementation table. It reinforced the need of cross-sectoral partnerships to develop sensible policies tackling the community’s priorities and needs.”

image of protestor holding sign that reads, Democracy is not for sale"

Citizens United Ruling Was ‘Outrageous,’ Dukakis Says

Michael Dukakis, 1988 Democratic presidential candidate and visiting professor of public policy, spoke to the Los Angeles Times about the Citizens United v. Federal Election Committee ruling and its profound effects on American politics. It has been 10 years since the momentous Supreme Court ruling that declared corporations had the same rights as people under the First Amendment and therefore were exempt from restrictions on political spending. Dukakis said the concept of a corporation having First Amendment rights is “outrageous.” Since the ruling, campaign finance has changed and Dukakis believes it does not align with what the Founding Fathers envisioned for the country.  “The Founders who wrote the Constitution would be astonished,” he said. “The right has been peddling this idea for years, and it’s nonsense.”


 

Newton on Decision to Leave Congressional Seat Vacant

Public policy lecturer Jim Newton spoke to Reuters news service about California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s decision to leave the congressional seat vacated by U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter unfilled throughout 2020. Hunter submitted his resignation after pleading guilty to federal corruption charges. His district, encompassing parts of San Diego and Riverside counties, will go without elected representation as Democrats and Republicans vie to win the seat in November elections. Newton said the governor had no particular political motive to rush a special election to fill Hunter’s seat. He said the yearlong vacancy probably gives Democrats a slight edge in providing more time to mount a campaign operation and raise money in a district that remains heavily Republican by registration but is, like much of California, moving to the left.

Villasenor Warns Against Digital Misinformation

Public Policy Professor John Villasenor joined CNN London to discuss the growing threat of deepfake videos, which use artificial intelligence to alter images, swap faces or edit voice audio to create very realistic footage. In one example, a deepfake video was released showing British Prime Minister Boris Johnson appearing to endorse his political rival, Jeremy Corbyn. Villasenor explained that digital misinformation is a real concern in today’s political environment. “We can expect both here in the United States and in other countries that the technology that can be used for these deepfakes will, in some cases, be used in an attempt to influence elections,” he said. Villasenor explained that there are “subtle differences between the audio and the mouth movements, but you have to be looking carefully.” Moving forward, he urges people to “recalibrate their expectations” and unlearn the habit of assuming that what we see on video is always true.


Voting Rights Project Takes a Stand

Powerful Latinas From 5 States Offer Inside View of Politics Legislators from the southwestern U.S. provide insight during a panel discussion hosted by UCLA Luskin

By Les Dunseith

In an era when politics often seems to consist of partisan bickering and legislative stonewalling, it may seem that nothing of importance is happening in government. But a recent panel discussion hosted by the UCLA Latino Policy & Politics Initiative showed that real impact is still being made in many statehouses. And the growing prominence of Latina elected officials is a big reason why.

Latina legislative leaders from five states in the southwestern United States — Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico — traveled to LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes in downtown Los Angeles to participate in a panel discussion.

“Tonight is a special evening for us,” said Sonja Diaz, founding director of the initiative, which is based at UCLA Luskin, in her opening remarks. “This is actually a rare time where Latinas are going to be over-represented on stage.”

Jennifer Medina, a national correspondent for the New York Times, led the questioning of the panel of state senators. She began by asking the panelists, who are all Democrats, to reflect on what has changed in recent years to make it possible for more women of color like themselves to win elected office.

The panel cited changing demographics and the backlash against unpopular efforts by conservative lawmakers to crack down on illegal immigration as keys to mobilizing opposition in states such as California and Arizona. But Sen. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez of New Mexico cited a third reason for a recent surge in minority officeholders.

“A big trigger for the change — and it’s a dramatic change and it’s happening now — was the election of this president,” she said.

The desire to mobilize the Latino electorate to help oust Donald Trump from the White House in 2020 was a recurring theme of the panel discussion.

“The federal government is like a dumpster fire right now. Congress is broken,” said Sen. Julie Gonzales of Colorado. “So there has been a tremendous amount of responsibility that has fallen to us in the states to be able to actually show what governance looks like.”

Unlike the other four panelists, Sen. Rebecca Rios of Arizona holds elected office in a state that is controlled by Republicans. She says the GOP’s dominance of political races there has been gradually eroding.

 Arizona’s going to be pivotal in the 2020 presidential race. No doubt about it,” Rios told the crowd of about 200 people at the Latino Policy & Politics Initiative event. Trump’s margin of victory in her state was less than 4% in 2016, and “there is a massive effort by nonprofits and [Democrats] to energize our base and register people of color to vote in 2020.”

There are no shortcuts to building political success, the candidates said. It takes time, effort and experience.

“What I’ve learned my whole life, as a union organizer, was you have got to have a base … that’s mobilized and that’s continuously pressing the issues forward,” said California Sen. María Elena Durazo, who said she feels a responsibility “to vote the right way” on issues of importance to Latinos.

Pushing legislation of importance to Latinos, which some people call identity politics, can be tricky for elected officials to navigate. Their political views can be misconstrued or mislabeled. In the view of Nevada Sen. Yvanna Cancela, it’s important to talk about race, gender and minority representation in inclusive ways that bring people in rather than pushing them away.

“The constitutions of our states were written at a time where people who look like us didn’t have representation,” Cancela said, motioning to her fellow Latinas. “They are not systems designed for people like us to operate in, and have power in. And to fundamentally change those systems, we need our teams to be as big as possible.”

The panel noted time and again the importance of seeing all issues as important to Latino communities while highlighting a few issues they see as critical to Latinos and women.

“There are still so many hard-working people who are just poor and, you know, have to live bunched up in a small apartment,” said Durazo, who emphatically underscored poverty during the panel. “Those are outrageous things. That should be the Latino agenda. That’s what we should all be on the same side of fighting for.”

Others highlighted education and climate change, noting these issues are being championed in the Latino community.

Sedillo Lopez, the state senator from New Mexico, said she has seen growing agreement that elected officials should take action because of global warming and the environment “and what it means for our children.”

“[It’s] women and Latinas who are bringing this to the forefront,” she said. “And that’s why we need to be elected. We need to express ourselves with our very, very powerful voices.”

Medina closed out the panel by asking the panelists: “What’s keeping you up at night?”

Cancela answered quickly, drawing laughs: “Donald Trump’s Twitter account keeps me up at night.”

Gonzales is focusing on championing legislation in Colorado, but “as I head into this next legislative session, it will be, ‘What can I do differently?’” she said. “Can I do work that will have a concrete impact on people’s daily lives?”

Rios said the ongoing immigration crisis is never far from her thoughts. “What has made me cry is the reality that we’re tearing families apart, that we have children that are literally languishing without parents and with no idea what’s happening to them.”

But, ending on a hopeful note, Rios noted that her position of influence helps to create space for others, particularly the children who visit her office.

“This is my opportunity, hopefully, to engage these children — to let them know, ‘This is your Senate. You belong here,’” Rios said. “If I can do nothing else but make our children, our people, recognize that they belong and that we need them in positions of power, making decisions that are going to affect them and their families and our communities, then I’ve done my job.”

View images from the event on Flickr:

LPPI Latina Politics Panel

Public Financing of Elections Empowers Voters, Gilens Says

Professor of Public Policy Martin Gilens penned an opinion piece for the Times Union in support of publicly financed state elections in New York. A change in the language used in the New York state budget created a commission to review the potential of publicly financing elections. Gilens argued that New York can “reclaim democracy from the jaws of Big Money through a statewide system of publicly financed elections.” Reform is necessary because 40 percent of the money spent on federal elections came from 0.01 percent of the population in 2016, he argued. Affluent and organized interest groups hold more influence over the outcomes of elections, while the lower and middle classes hold virtually no influence, Gilens’ research found. Gilens said New York has the opportunity to challenge the status quo and promote a government for the people.


 

Wray-Lake on Planting Seeds of Political Engagement

Laura Wray-Lake, associate professor of social welfare, authored a blog post for the London School of Economics that highlighted her research on political behavior among U.S. youth. Affiliation with a major party has long been linked to heightened political engagement, she wrote, but in recent years young adults have been less likely to join a party. To analyze changes in youth political engagement, Wray-Lake and her research partners surveyed nearly 13,000 people — beginning at age 18 and continuing until they reached at least 30 — about behaviors such as voting, donating to a campaign, writing to public officials, and boycotting products or stores. They found that major political and social events from a person’s adolescence may be linked to his or her level of political activity throughout young adulthood. Given their potential for engagement, “it is remarkable that political parties appear to place such a low priority on recruiting or mobilizing young people,” Wray-Lake wrote.


 

Yaroslavsky on County Election Chief’s Grand Plan

Zev Yaroslavsky, director of the Los Angeles Initiative at UCLA Luskin, spoke to the L.A. Times about the county’s election chief, who is spearheading an overhaul of the voting system. Since Dean Logan became the registrar-recorder and clerk for Los Angeles County in 2008, he has advocated for replacing an antiquated balloting system. The new $300-million system known as Voting Solutions for All People will face its first test in March, when it is introduced countywide for the presidential primary election. Voters will use the new machines at a smaller number of multipurpose “vote centers” that will replace the roughly 5,000 traditional polling places. Yaroslavsky, who served on the county Board of Supervisors from 1994 to 2014, expressed confidence in Logan. “He’s got an engineer’s mind with an artist’s vision,” Yaroslavsky said. “If you’re in an airplane that has a problem in midair, he’s the kind of guy you would want as the pilot.”


 

Yaroslavsky and Newton on Power of Endorsements

A Long Beach Post article on upcoming local elections called on two UCLA Luskin experts to weigh in on the power of political endorsements. The public is thirsty for authenticity, and that can be more meaningful than prominent backers, Los Angeles Initiative Director Zev Yaroslavsky said. “The landscape is littered with insurgent candidacies that have prevailed and surprised a lot of people,” said Yaroslavsky, a former Los Angeles city councilman and county supervisor. Unions that offer endorsements often mobilize their members to campaign for candidates, which could make a difference in a low-turnout area, public policy lecturer Jim Newton added. But the impact of endorsements is limited, he said. “It really is an instance where voters have the last word,” Newton said. “In the end, voters can say ‘no’ to that.”