Following the California midterm elections, Los Angeles Initiative Director Zev Yaroslavsky appeared on several media outlets to offer insight into the state’s shifting political landscape. In an interview with TV station KCAL 9, Yaroslavsky said Gov. Gavin Newsom is “probably going to inherit a downturn of the economy” but he expressed support for Newsom’s economic philosophy “[not to] undertake programs in the good years that you can’t sustain in the lean years.” He said the new governor has a “good track record and experience to play the role he needs to play to keep the state in line” in the face of a legislature that wants to spend and a Trump administration that is “trying to undo … virtually everything that California has been a trailblazer in.” Yaroslavsky also spoke with Fox News about the state’s Democratic supermajority. “Republicans are politically less relevant in California than they have been in years, and it is really up to the Democrats to decide what role they play,” he said. “As long as Democrats stay unified, they won’t even need bipartisan support.” In a CNBC story on the legacy of Jerry Brown, Yaroslavsky spoke about the state’s rebound after the four-term governor cut programs and services to restore fiscal stability. “[Brown] made some very tough decisions to bring California from the precipice of fiscal demise,” Yaroslavsky said. “The last four years were maybe a little easier because the economy did finally turn around and he was able to build the state back up.”
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!”
Founding director of Latino Policy & Politics Initiative (LPPI) Sonja Diaz was recently featured on KPCC’s “Air Talk” to discuss the ongoing results of the 2018 midterm elections. As provisional, conditional and vote-by-mail ballots were being counted, Diaz analyzed the increase in the Latino vote compared to 2014 midterm elections. Diaz’s research through the UCLA Luskin-affiliated LPPI found that, while Los Angeles County experienced a 52% increase in ballots cast overall, precincts where Latinos constituted 75% or more of registered voters yielded a “77% increase in the number of ballots cast.” Diaz also acknowledged the impact of Latino voters on the success of Spanish surname candidates like Kevin De Leon running for statewide election. Diaz also cited results from Texas’ Senate race between Ted Cruz and Beto O’Rourke, noting that “exit polls do not capture minority voters as accurately as more traditional or white voters.”
Public Policy lecturer Jorja Leap was featured in a Los Angeles Daily News article discussing factors contributing to the unexpectedly tight race for Los Angeles County sheriff. While incumbent sheriffs are traditionally successful at winning re-election, the 2018 midterm elections marked a notable shift, with retired lieutenant Alex Villanueva currently in the lead. Although opponent and incumbent sheriff Jim McDonnell is higher ranked, has more experience and had a better-funded campaign, Villanueva attracted significant support from unions and Latino voters. Leap noted the “collateral damage” of “voters who were primarily interested in other races and voted for Villanueva because of demographics or party support.” Leap and other experts debate whether Villanueva’s success thus far is a result of voters’ placing less value on incumbency, McDonnell’s overestimation of the power of name recognition, or the confusion prompted by Villanueva’s ballot designation as sheriff’s lieutenant, effectively muting the candidates’ different levels of experience.