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Yaroslavsky Cautions Against Splintering Electorate

Director of the Los Angeles Initiative Zev Yaroslavsky was featured in the Orange County Register discussing the lengthy requirements for political parties to qualify for the California ballot. Only 19 parties have been on the ballot in the 112 years since California started the nomination process, and California state laws make it difficult for new parties to break through. “I don’t think it should be impossible, but it also should not be so easy that you could have 30 parties on a ballot,” Yaroslavsky said. “I don’t think most voters like to throw away their vote to very minor parties.” Yaroslavsky expressed concern that lowering the bar for new parties to get on the ballot can further complicate and splinter the electorate. If a party can’t even drum up enough support to get on the ballot, he asked, what kind of impact could it actually make?


Diaz on New Latino-Majority Districts in California

Founding Director of the Latino Policy and Politics Initiative Sonja Diaz was featured in a Los Angeles Times column about the role that California Latinos will play in the midterm elections. New congressional maps were drawn based on the results of the 2020 Census, and the number of Latino-majority districts in California increased from 10 to 16. The six new districts with Latino majorities could help Democrats retain control of the House of Representatives in the upcoming elections. However, some experts are concerned that it may take time to mobilize voters in these districts, which are concentrated in the Central Valley and encompass rural and historically disenfranchised communities that may be hard to organize. “Latinos are at the periphery of California politics even though they’re central to the economy and to its future,” Diaz explained. She said that Democrats should seek Latino candidates who can speak to the concerns of Latino communities.


On the Evolution of Voter Access in California

Alisa Belinkoff Katz, senior fellow at the UCLA Luskin Center for History and Policy and associate director of the Los Angeles Initiative, and Sonja Diaz, founding director of the UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Initiative, spoke to ABC7 News about the complicated history of voter suppression in California. Despite major strides in voting access, including the Voting Rights Act of 1965, a report co-authored by Belinkoff Katz found that California voters do not reflect the diversity of its people. She described the origins of the “exclusion of low-income people from the vote,” starting with Chinese immigrants and some Native Americans during the 18th and 19th centuries. Diaz added that some people are still being left out today because of the color of their skin, their class or their ZIP code, as well as redistricting decisions that dilute their voting power. 


Luskin Summit Underscores Urgency of Safeguarding Democracy

A panel of experts stressed the urgency of protecting voter rights at the Luskin Summit virtual event “Safeguarding Our Democracy” on Feb. 15. Chad Dunn, legal director of the UCLA Voting Rights Project, led the discussion about legislative attempts to restrict voting rights across the country, particularly in communities of color. “People of color made their voices heard in record numbers in the 2020 election, and in response to that, we are seeing a swift backlash to ensure that those voices are not heard again,” said Kristen Johnson, assistant counsel for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. “It’s 2022, but we are dealing with 1964 issues with respect to voting. We can’t allow voter suppression to happen as if it is inevitable,” said Johnson, a UCLA Law alumna. Ernest Herrera, counsel for the Western Regional Office of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said that voter suppression tactics are especially evident in states with growing Latino populations, including Washington and Texas. “There is discrimination and prevention of minorities from exercising their political power,” he said. “Unfortunately, many jurisdictions won’t comply with the Voting Rights Act until they are forced to.” Herrera recommended working to protect voter rights at the state level and getting involved in local government. Dunn concluded that “this has always been a two-steps-forward, one-step-back struggle, and there will be opportunities to move forward.” Civic leader Kafi Blumenfield, a member of the Luskin School of Public Affairs Board of Advisors, offered a closing statement for the event. — Zoe Day


Yaroslavsky on Tipping Point of Homelessness

Zev Yaroslavsky, director of the Los Angeles Initiative at UCLA Luskin, spoke to USA Today about the growing issue of homelessness in Los Angeles and the role that it will play in the city’s upcoming mayoral election. The homelessness crisis has grown and is now visible in parks, on sidewalks and at freeway underpasses. Experts estimate that there are at least 40,000 unhoused people in Los Angeles, and a Los Angeles Times poll found that 94% of respondents considered homelessness a serious or very serious problem. “This problem has been around for a long time, [but] we’re past the tipping point now, the political tipping point,” Yaroslavsky said. “This is as potent a political issue as there is in the election coming forward.” The article cited a report from the UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy that estimated that 1,500 people without homes died in Los Angeles between March 2020 and July 2021. 


Diaz on Caruso’s Entry Into the L.A. Mayor’s Race

Sonja Diaz, executive director of the UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Initiative, spoke to the Los Angeles Times and New York Times about billionaire developer Rick Caruso’s entry into the race for L.A. mayor. Caruso has said that elected politicians have failed voters on issues such as homelessness and crime. His résumé, which includes serving as head of the city’s Police Commission and chairman of the board of trustees of the University of Southern California, evokes an older generation of Los Angeles power brokers. Diaz said the success of any mayoral candidate will depend, at least in part, on the ability to appeal to Latino voters. “Obviously, COVID-19 has had a disparate impact on Latino households in this city,” she told the L.A. Times. “So a mayor is going to have to articulate a policy agenda that centers Latino workers and Latino households in ways that they can remain in the city and not just survive but thrive.”


 

Diaz Calls on Sen. Sinema to Protect Democracy

Sonja Diaz, director of the UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Initiative, published an opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times about the urgent need to protect voter rights. The 2020 Census found that the country’s white population is declining, while the number of Latinos and Asian Americans is increasing. However, voter suppression tactics, including closing polling places, purging voter rolls and passing restrictive voter ID laws, are threatening democracy, especially affecting voters of color, Diaz wrote. She directed her comments at Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, who has helped block congressional action even as lawmakers in her own state have put forward audacious attempts to curb access to the ballot. “We are facing an all-out assault on free and fair elections that coincides with the growth and consequence of voters of color,” Diaz wrote. “[Sinema’s] inaction allows the will of a minority of the population to have an outsized influence on who can participate in our democracy.”


Reber on Link Between High COVID Risk and Vaccine Hesitancy

Quartz spoke with Associate Professor of Public Policy Sarah Reber about her study finding that the political environment outside a skilled nursing facility did not strongly predict the likelihood that its residents were vaccinated against COVID-19. Politics might be expected to seep into nursing home environments, Reber said, especially because many of the residents suffer from cognitive decline and have substitute decision-makers — often adult children and other family members who live nearby — who must give consent before a resident can be inoculated. Reber said the extreme threat COVID-19 poses to older adults could be one factor at play. “It does seem like the higher the risk, the less politicized vaccination is,” she said. In an article for Brookings, Reber and co-author Cyrus Kosar of Brown University also found wide disparities in states’ effectiveness in delivering life-saving vaccines, including flu shots, to nursing home residents, but the reason for this gap is unclear.


Reber on Nursing Homes, Booster Shots and Politics

Associate Professor of Public Policy Sarah Reber co-authored a Brookings article that used a political lens to view COVID-19 vaccination rates at nursing homes. “Vaccination for nursing home residents has not been politicized as much as for younger populations,” Reber found. Nursing home staff and residents have been slow to get COVID booster shots since the CDC first recommended them for high-risk populations in September. However, Reber found that booster uptake among nursing home residents has not been strongly politicized the way it has in the general population. Instead, she noted that “pre-pandemic flu vaccination rates for nursing home residents, which was highly correlated with initial vaccination rates, continues to be a strong predictor of the share receiving boosters for COVID-19.” Reber highlighted the importance of boosting nursing home residents and staff in order to reduce the impact of the Omicron variant.


Turner on Framing the Heat Narrative to Find Solutions

Assistant Professor of Urban Planning V. Kelly Turner explored the question “How do we change?” as a guest speaker on an episode of the UCLA lecture series “10 Questions: If not now, when?” Turner discussed her own work on cool pavement, climate change, and the way that different narratives surrounding heat can point to different solutions. “I never thought that cool pavement would be the most political thing that I would study,” Turner said. She highlighted the importance of incorporating equity into the conversation about heat and climate change, noting that only about 25% of city plans use an equity narrative. “We know that heat is one of the most inequitable consequences of climate change,” she said. Turner also explained that “changing the problem framing can unlock new legal doors.” For example, she pointed out that there is no government entity that regulates heat the way that air and water pollution are regulated.


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