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Dukakis on Public Leadership in a Time of Crisis The former governor of Massachusetts and Democratic nominee for president shares his insights on leadership

By Stan Paul

As the former governor of Massachusetts and a onetime Democratic nominee for president, UCLA Luskin faculty member Michael Dukakis knows a lot about leading during a crisis.

“The only thing that I had that, from a state standpoint, came even close to [the coronavirus crisis] was the famous blizzard of ’78,” said Dukakis, recalling a catastrophic storm that struck New England states and shut down air, rail and highways. Some commuters were trapped in their cars, and the storm destroyed homes and forced people to evacuate, and find food and shelter.

Thankfully, Dukakis’ secretary of public safety, Charles Barry, “just was obsessive on emergency planning,” he said.  “We had a detailed plan for dealing with emergencies and I said, ‘You run it, and you tell me what to say every afternoon at 3 o’clock,’ because I had shut down all traffic and all these other things and, fortunately, came out of it in great shape.”

Dukakis teaches a policy course on institutional leadership at UCLA Luskin each winter quarter, and it focuses on case studies that include his own experiences in government and public service. He stressed the importance of preparing public managers well, noting that graduate students should be serious about learning how to run an agency and deliver the goods during a crisis.

“If you are not organized for this, and you don’t have really superb people, look out,” Dukakis said. “Whoever is in charge should be someone who knows what he’s doing.”

The interview with Dukakis took place shortly after the stunning reversal of fortune of presidential candidate Joe Biden.

“This is an extraordinary year. What’s happened over the last 10 days is beyond extraordinary,” Dukakis said a few days after Biden swept to victory in 10 of 15 Democratic primary contests on Super Tuesday, March 3. “Nobody would have predicted it, including yours truly, and somebody smarter than me is going to have to try to figure out how it happened.”

Normally, at the end of the winter quarter, Dukakis meets with faculty and staff at the Luskin School to share advice and make political observations. This year, that meeting had to be canceled because of the novel coronavirus pandemic, which also temporarily delayed the return of Dukakis and his wife, Kitty, to their home in Massachusetts.

“What I would say to the faculty is that what Joe needs now — and you’ve heard this rant of mine before — is a first-class, 50-state, 200,000-precinct organization … and no more reds, blues and purples, firewalls and all that nonsense,” Dukakis said about what Biden would have to do to defeat Republican incumbent Donald Trump.

A presidential candidate has to be competitive in every single state, “if only to keep the opposition busy in those states,” reiterated Dukakis, who has guided a number of UCLA Luskin alumni to careers in public office and public service over the years.

“It’s all grass roots,” he continued. “They can raise enough money to run a campaign like this, but it’s a precinct captain in every precinct, six block captains” that win an election. “It’s so dependent on the quality and caliber of the people you have working for you. I can’t emphasize that enough. I don’t think people understand just how important that is.”

Newton on Spirituality and Intellect of Jerry Brown

Jim Newton, lecturer and editor of UCLA’s Blueprint magazine, spoke to KPCC’s AirTalk about the life of former Gov. Jerry Brown, which he chronicled in his book, “Man of Tomorrow.” Brown led California at two very different stages of his life — from 1975 until 1983, on the heels of the Vietnam War and Watergate, and again from 2011 until 2019. “He left California in far better shape than he found it,” with a rainy day fund of about $20 billion that steeled the state as it took on the COVID-19 pandemic, Newton said. “I have never met a person who thinks more deeply or attempts to draw bigger lessons out of spirituality and intellect and infuse them into politics than Jerry Brown,” he said. “He’s not always done that in ways that people would agree were successful, but I don’t know anyone who aspires to higher things.”

Yaroslavsky on ‘Governance Mess’ in L.A. County

Zev Yaroslavsky, director of the Los Angeles Initiative at UCLA Luskin, spoke to the Los Angeles Times about continuing vitriol between the county’s sheriff and Board of Supervisors. Discord dates back to the election of Sheriff Alex Villanueva in 2018. Most recently, Villanueva has come under fire for using a slur against Supervisor Hilda Solis in a public address. In challenging Solis’ comments about police brutality against people of color, Villanueva said, “Are you trying to earn the title of a La Malinche?” The term, used to demean a woman as a traitor or sellout, refers to a historical figure in Mexican culture. Solis called the comment “highly unprofessional, inappropriate, racist and sexist.” Yaroslavsky, a longtime public servant in Los Angeles, said the ongoing antagonism could stifle good policy. “It’s a governance mess. And the people are the ones that will be hurt in the end,” he said.


 

Bass, Castro Join Dialogue on Black-Brown Coalition-Building

Black and Latino advocates and elected officials explored ways that communities of color can build coalitions to transform the nation’s social and political landscape during a webinar hosted by UCLA’s Latino Policy and Politics Initiative (LPPI). Rep. Karen Bass, chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, and Julián Castro, former U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, spoke of the importance of finding common ground in an era when communities of color are bearing the brunt of COVID-19, police violence, joblessness, housing insecurity and disenfranchisement. “We have to never allow ourselves to be divided,” said Bass, who noted that Congress members of Black, Hispanic, Asian and Native American descent work in sync to craft a common agenda. Castro argued that real change requires lifting up the next generation of leaders. “What we need to do is be intentional about passing that baton on,” he said. Bass and Castro were joined by Genny Castillo of the Southern Economic Advancement Project and Jonathan Jayes-Green of the Marguerite Casey Foundation, who weighed in on barriers facing candidates of color. Politico reporter Laura Barrón-López moderated the July 22 dialogue. “What we’ve learned today is that Latinos have an important role to play in the Movement for Black Lives and really in protecting Black life,” LPPI Director Sonja Diaz said. “One thing is clear to me from this conversation. We can’t return to the old normal. And when we chart a path forward, especially in the streets and in chambers of power, we’ll only get stronger if we work together.”


 

Diaz on Lack of Latino Representation on Redistricting Commission

Sonja Diaz, founding director of the UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Initiative (LPPI), was interviewed by Spectrum News 1 and Hecho en California about the early exclusion of Latinos on the state’s 2020 Citizens Redistricting Commission, which convenes every 10 years to draw new district lines. Latinos make up nearly 40% of California’s population, but none were included when the first eight members of this year’s commission were chosen through a randomized selection process. A Sacramento Bee opinion piece citing LPPI’s work on the issue noted that Latinos are chronically underrepresented in the redistricting process, from the number of applications submitted to the final slots provided to members of the community. “It’s really important as we think about how to rebuild and reopen our economy that Latinos have a seat at the table,” Diaz said, adding that she hopes the remaining six seats are filled by Latino voices or voices that recognize the needs of Latino political power.


Report Analyzes Asian American, Latino Votes in 2020 Primaries

Asian American and Latino voters in three key states — California, Virginia and Texas — had lower engagement in the 2020 primaries compared to four years before, according to a new analysis from the Latino Policy and Politics Initiative, or UCLA LPPI. The report analyzed precinct-level data from 10 states in the Democratic primary’s early nominating contests through March 17, when former Vice President Joe Biden became the presumptive nominee, to ascertain the candidate preference of Latino and Asian American voters. The report also found:

  • Bernie Sanders did well with Latino voters in states like California, Iowa and Nevada where he had significant field operations and voter outreach.
  • Sanders won at higher rates in the high-density minority precincts he carried compared to Joe Biden.
  • Biden won the plurality of Latino votes in high-density Latino precincts in Virginia, Florida and some counties in Texas, demonstrating the malleability of the Latino vote, as well as the potential impact of voter outreach efforts at the local level.
  • In Los Angeles County and Orange County, fewer Californians in high-density Latino precincts cast ballots than in 2016. As advocacy for vote-by-mail grows amid the COVID-19 pandemic, these results highlight a need for robust education and outreach efforts surrounding election procedures.

“The time is now for campaigns to maximize the potential of America’s diverse electorate, and that starts with the Latino and Asian American vote,” said Sonja Diaz, founding director at UCLA LPPI.

Newton on Garcetti’s Steady Response to Crisis

Jim Newton, lecturer of public policy, spoke to the Washington Post about Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s approach to managing the city’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. Garcetti has made it a priority to be well-versed in all the numbers, he said. “I think the book on Garcetti, correctly, has been that he is smart, articulate, principled, kind of an incrementalist and cautious,” Newton said. “And so what I think all of that has added up to — up to this point, anyway — is a kind of steady but unspectacular time as mayor.” As pressure has increased to reopen the economy, Garcetti’s decision-making process has been driven by cautious reason. Newton explained that the coronavirus pandemic is “the sort of crisis well-suited to [Garcetti’s] strengths: He is smart, good with data, comfortable with science. There’s no blaming. There’s no ridiculousness. It’s very steady and even and straightforward.”


Yaroslavsky Sees Tectonic Shift in Los Angeles History

In a Los Angeles Times article, Los Angeles Initiative Director Zev Yaroslavsky weighed in on Mayor Eric Garcetti’s proposal to redistribute funding from police to communities. After decades of efforts to expand the Los Angeles Police Department with the aim of making the city safer, the news proposal would direct $250 million from other city operations to youth jobs, health initiatives and “peace centers” to heal trauma, with as much as $150 million coming from the LAPD. The proposal comes in response to widespread demands that the government provide poor and minority communities with more than a police presence following the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. “If you look at the arc of the city’s history for three decades, there is a tectonic shift here with this growing constituency for reform,” Yaroslavsky said. “There is the emergence of this multiracial coalition of people, who have formed a powerful constituency, and they are making their voices heard.”


Newton on Capturing the Life of Jerry Brown

Jim Newton, editor of UCLA’s Blueprint magazine and a lecturer at the Luskin School, appeared on several media outlets to discuss “Man of Tomorrow,” his new biography of former Gov. Jerry Brown. In an interview with Capital Public Radio, Newton explained the title of the book. Brown, he said, is “a person who lives in the future and thinks about the future and sometimes has actually suffered from that, in the sense that he’s sort of been ahead of his electorate on some things.” He said the former governor exhibits “a combination of warning and concern and skepticism but also clear-sightedness and foresight and optimism” that keeps him relevant in the public arena. Newton appeared with Brown at a session of the UCLA Luskin Summit, as well as a webinar hosted by the Sacramento Press Club. A Los Angeles Times review of his book called it a “formidable contribution to the history of both the state and the country.”


 

Jerry Brown Speaks Out on Curbing Coronavirus and Building a Strong Future Former governor's conversation with biographer Jim Newton draws virtual audience of more than 1,300

By Mary Braswell

Former Gov. Jerry Brown shared his views on stepping up the fight against COVID-19 and repairing the rifts that divide Americans during an expansive conversation with Jim Newton, editor of UCLA’s Blueprint magazine and author of a new book on the California statesman’s life.

More than 1,300 viewers tuned in to the May 12 webinar to hear insights from Brown, who built a reputation as both pragmatist and visionary in his half-century of public service, including four terms at the state’s helm.

The virtual audience had the opportunity to pose questions during the hour-long session, organized by the Los Angeles World Affairs Council & Town Hall and the nonprofit Writers Bloc, in partnership with the 2020 UCLA Luskin Summit.

The webinar took place amid a nationwide debate about how best to contain the novel coronavirus. Newton, author of the new biography “Man of Tomorrow: The Relentless Life of Jerry Brown,” asked the former governor how he would balance the dueling imperatives of protecting the nation’s health and reviving its economy.

Singling out Taiwan as a nation that acted swiftly and effectively to curb the virus’ spread, Brown urged that anyone infected be quarantined away from their families. The urgency of widespread coronavirus testing cannot be underestimated, he said, faulting the federal government for failing to mobilize the nation’s resources to fight the virus.

“This is a great manufacturing powerhouse, we’re a great biotech innovative powerhouse as well,” he said. “So the fact that we don’t have the tests we need, not by the hundreds of thousands but by the tens of millions every day, is leading to the problem we’re now at.

“The longer you wait, the harder it is, the more people get sick, suffer and die,” Brown said.

To rebuild the economy, the former governor invoked the words of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who called for “bold, persistent experimentation” in his New Deal package of relief and reforms following the Great Depression.

“We need that. Not partisan rancor, not petty politics, not halfway measures. To get this economy going with so many people sequestered at home requires massive federal spending and investment,” Brown said.

He called for the immediate launch of ambitious infrastructure projects to reopen hospitals, bring internet access to rural areas, and build roads, highways and high-speed rail. The projects, he said, would be staffed through a jobs program that would provide a livelihood for millions of Americans now facing prolonged unemployment.

“I would call this really a Rooseveltian moment. And it ought to take into account all the problems that we have. Whether it’s the maldistribution of income and opportunity, whether it’s the pending challenge of climate disruption, all these things are on the table,” he said. “Unfortunately, if we can’t do them right in calmer days, it’s going to be very difficult.”

Known for sprinkling his comments with historical references, Brown cited Roosevelt numerous times and also namechecked economists John Maynard Keynes and Friedrich August Hayek, inventor and architect Buckminster Fuller, and Supreme Court Justice Edward Douglass White, who served in the early 20th Century.

But the names most cited were Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell, the president and Senate majority leader whom Brown held accountable for both an inadequate COVID-19 response and a fractured populace.

“If the choice is Trump for another four years … all these problems, from my vantage point, are going to get much, much worse, dangerously so,” Brown said, looking ahead to the November election.

“We have a lot of challenges and probably the biggest is building trust in our leadership, which is now being done better by our governors than by those occupying a power pole position in Washington,” he said.

Brown, a longtime Democrat whose own presidential aspirations fell short, predicted that an era of greater national unity lies ahead — but it requires abandoning far-reaching proposals from both the political left and right.

“I think we do need a unifier. I know we need polarization to activate the electorate, but in governing we need someone who reaches beyond the particular issues that are currently the stuff of campaigning,” Brown said.

“And that’s why politics is not all that satisfying and why politicians are not enduringly popular.”

Fielding audience questions, Brown weighed in on a range of topics.

On the future of financing higher education in California, he said, “We need to change the university from being an arms race of amenities to one that will be more limited but also fully creative. … The current course is not sustainable without a rising burden put on students, and I think that would be very wrong.”

On his signature issue, combating climate change, he called for an era of “planetary realism” and noted that the coronavirus emergency offers a sober lesson: “If you delay, if you don’t seize the moment when you can, you pay a much bigger price.”

And on maintaining hope amid an array of global threats, Brown took a poetic turn:

“I look out the window here and the wind is blowing on the walnut tree in front of me, the oak trees, the leaves, they’re flourishing” even amid drought, he said. “The rabbits are running around, the dogs are chasing the squirrels, the coyotes are howling at night. …

“Life — just to be here and be part of it — is quite a lot. So to worry, to think about down the road how it’s going to turn out? That’s fortune telling. That’s ouija board stuff.

“Do what you can do in the moment that you have. And God will take care of the rest.”

 

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Careers in Public Policy Panel

In collaboration with the Public Policy and International Affairs (PPIA) Southern California Chapter and UCLA’s Master of Public Policy program, this panel will showcase PPIA and UCLA MPP alumni who are now working as policy professionals in government agencies, non-profits/NGOs, research centers and/or think tanks. Participants will be able to hear about diverse experiences in policy career trajectories and receive valuable advice on how to prepare themselves for the career they want. The panel will include a Q&A section for participants to further engage with the panelists. RSVP to receive a link in the days prior to the event.