Posts

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.”


 

Segura on LGBTQ Forum and the 2020 Campaign

UCLA Luskin Dean Gary Segura spoke on SiriusXM radio’s Michaelangelo Signorile Show about the 2020 elections and the upcoming Democratic presidential forum centered around LGBTQ issues, which will be hosted by the Luskin School and the Human Rights Campaign Foundation in October. Politicians have a history of shying away from LGBTQ issues so it is beneficial to “have their feet held to the fire” early in the campaign, Segura said. He also discussed immigration, healthcare, the impact of earlier primary dates in California and Texas, and the Trump presidency’s effect on the mindset of the American populace. “The Democratic coalition will be most successful when it finds a way to knit together the minority populations and the coastal educated populations with the blue-collar, working-class people who are getting a crappy deal in American society,” Segura said. “If you could pull both of those together you’d have a huge majority.”


 

Kevin de León Joins UCLA Luskin Former state legislative leader who bolstered California’s role in fighting climate change and building a clean-energy economy will teach public policy courses and provide insight on issues of special importance to Latinos

President pro Tempore Emeritus of the California State Senate Kevin de León has joined the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs as a distinguished policymaker-in-residence and senior analyst.

“Kevin de León has led the way for more than a decade on issues as important as environmental protection and climate, immigration, education, and so much more. Our students and researchers will both benefit greatly from his insights and vision,” Dean Gary M. Segura said in announcing the appointment.

De León began his new role at UCLA Luskin on Jan. 22, 2019, and will teach his first courses at UCLA in the spring quarter that begins in April. His courses will focus on topics of interest to the School’s graduate students studying public policy and to undergraduates in UCLA Luskin’s new major in public affairs.

As the first Latino in more than a century elected to the position of president pro tem of the California Senate, de León championed California’s global leadership role in fighting climate change and building a clean-energy economy. He also focused his attention on rebuilding the state’s infrastructure; improving public education; ensuring workplace and health care equity for women, immigrants and low-wage workers; and enhancing public safety.

In Sacramento, de León also led the creation of a first-of-its-kind retirement savings program for low-income workers. He pushed for a requirement that a quarter of all carbon cap-and-trade revenue — now totaling over $8 billion — be spent in disadvantaged communities. As Senate leader, he shepherded legislation that set California on the path to a 100 percent clean energy future — the largest economy in the world to do so — thereby creating the most ambitious renewable energy goals in the nation.

His role at UCLA Luskin will include an advisory position with the Latino Policy and Politics Initiative (LPPI), which is a multifaceted laboratory designed to support Latinos around domestic policy challenges. Research and policy briefs from LPPI tackle major legislative issues that directly impact Californians, particularly communities of color.

In December 2017, de León served as keynote speaker for the launch of LPPI, saying that UCLA is “arguably the finest public institution in the nation, if not the entire world.” De León also spoke enthusiastically of the promise that LPPI represents for elected officials. “We need the empirical evidence, and it’s about time we have this institution established at UCLA.”

Last year, de León launched a historic challenge to unseat U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein. He prevailed in a tough primary battle, earned the overwhelming endorsement of the state’s Democratic Party, and secured more than 5 million votes.

He has an extensive record on women’s rights, gun-violence prevention and workers’ rights. De León has also worked to create solutions to address the state’s transportation, housing and infrastructure goals.

Another aspect of de León’s appointment at UCLA Luskin will be a collaboration with the Luskin Center for Innovation (LCI) to design implementation strategies for signature laws that he shepherded during his time in the State Capitol, including legislation to ensure that disadvantaged communities have access to clean transportation options.

Other collaborations with LCI will advance efforts to move the state to 100 percent zero-carbon energy and provide support for policies designed to ensure that California continues to lead the country with its climate policies. De León will help craft community-based solutions that advance these statewide goals.

De León attended the University of California, Santa Barbara, and he graduated from Pitzer College.