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.
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.
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.”
A Daily News article discussing the upcoming June vote on Measure EE included comments by Zev Yaroslavsky, director of the Los Angeles Initiative. Measure EE is a proposed 16-cents-per-square-foot parcel tax that pledges to pay for lower class sizes, attract high-quality teachers, and improve programs and services for students within the Los Angeles Unified School District. Yaroslavsky explained that “typically, when you have lower voter turnout, and there’s a campaign on both sides, it makes it more difficult for the yes side to get a two-thirds vote.” Proponents of the bills argue that the tax is necessary to make up for inadequate funding from the state, while opponents blame the district for mismanagement of funds. “My instincts tell me this is going to be close,” Yaroslavsky said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if it won, nor would I be surprised if it lost.”
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.”
Just in time for the midterm elections, UCLA Luskin Policy Professor Martin Gilens co-wrote an American Prospect article with Northwestern University Professor Benjamin Page proposing extensive yet perhaps much needed changes to our democratic process. The first and foremost change that Gilens advocates is a transition from our current system of plurality voting or “first past the post” to a system called rank-choice voting, or RCV. Our current system can produce elected officials who are not representative of their districts; this was the case in Maine’s 2010 gubernatorial election, in which far-right politician Paul LePage won with 38 percent of the popular vote, which was split among three candidates. After this upset, Maine instituted RCV, a system where “voters do not just pick one candidate; they rank all the candidates in order of preference, from most favored to least favored.” This system, if applied nationally, would reduce party polarization as well as produce more representative elected officials, the article said.
By Stan Paul
Leo Estrada, associate professor emeritus of urban planning at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, died Nov. 3, 2018, following a lengthy illness. He was 73.
Estrada came to UCLA in 1977, joining the faculty of what was then UCLA’s Graduate School of Architecture and Urban Planning under the late Harvey Perloff, who was known as the dean of American urban planners.
A native of El Paso, Texas, Estrada had held academic appointments previously at the University of North Texas, University of Texas at El Paso and the University of Michigan. He received his undergraduate degree from Baylor University and his master’s and doctoral degrees from Florida State University.
During his decades of service at UCLA, Estrada was recognized as an expert demographer and an urban planning researcher and teacher. He also was a fierce and effective advocate for Latino voting, civil rights and representation, said UCLA Luskin Dean Gary Segura, and someone who made huge contributions to UCLA.
“Throughout his career, Leo Estrada distinguished himself as a mentor, adviser and advocate for the careers of countless young planners and scholars, many students and faculty of color, and so much more,” Segura said.
Professor of urban planning Vinit Mukhija said he remembers Estrada for his compassion, generosity and commitment. Mukhija, now chair of urban planning, recalled that Estrada went out of his way to help him navigate through his first year as an assistant professor at UCLA. “That’s just one thing on a very personal level that I am grateful for,” Mukhija said.
Estrada’s selflessness extended not only to faculty, but to staff, students and beyond, Mukhija said.
“Leo was pretty much on campus every day, and he had a sign-up sheet on his office door that included all the days of the week, for many hours — just way beyond what the expectation was and what the practice was in terms of accessibility to students.” Mukhija said. “That was just another remarkable thing — he did that at the undergraduate level, the graduate level and the doctoral level. And I don’t know how many dissertation committees he did, but he seemed to be one of the busiest.”
Mukhija said that people “change the culture of a place, and Leo was along those lines. Definitely, he primarily led by example, but I think he encouraged people to be helpful to others as well.”
What also stood out to Mukhija was that “Leo was always the calmest person in the room. And yet, there was no question that he was engaged. He did that in a remarkable way that is almost peerless.”
In addition to teaching courses about planning for minority communities and geographic information systems, for a number of years the tireless Estrada led intensive undergraduate urban planning travel study trips to Geneva, Switzerland during the summer term.
Following a role on UCLA Academic Senate’s undergraduate council, Estrada stepped up to serve as chair of the senate during the 2015–16 academic year.
In his professional work, Estrada applied his skills in mapping to redistricting issues for cities across the country and provided expertise on ethnic and racial groups for the U.S. Census Bureau, where he held titles such as special assistant to the chief of the population division and as staff assistant to the deputy director. He also participated in numerous national studies, including an evaluation of the U.S. Standard of Live Birth for the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics.
Following the beating of Rodney King in 1991, Estrada was called by Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley to serve on the Christopher Commission to examine the use of force by the Los Angeles Police Department. Describing the experience as “incredible,” Estrada later said that it was “one of the most important moments of my history and life here in Los Angeles.”
Estrada served on numerous advisory boards, including U.S. Census Bureau of Transportation Statistics, Latino Issues Forum, the Aspen Institute, National Association of Hispanic Elderly, the California Policy Research Institute, the Committee for the Study of the American Electorate, and the California Endowment. He also was a former member on the national board of AARP, New Economics for Women, the National Association of Childcare Resource and Referral Agencies, and Hispanics in Philanthropy.
Other nonprofit advisory boards he served on included the Pew Charitable Trust’s Global Stewardship Initiative, the Center for the Study of the American Electorate, the Southern California Association of Governments, and Los Angeles World Airports. In 2013 he was named to the board of directors of SCAN Health Plan.
In June, a retirement celebration for Estrada was held to recognize his decades of scholarship, service and accomplishments at UCLA.
Commenting at that time in a story to commemorate his career, Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, a longtime UCLA Luskin colleague and urban planning professor, described Estrada as “a giant on many different fronts.”
“He has been an inspiring teacher and a mentor to an endless number of UCLA students and a role model to many Latino and minority students,” she said.
Loukaitou-Sideris, who is also associate provost for academic planning at UCLA, noted that Estrada was one of the first urban planning scholars to teach and institutionalize courses about diversity and planning.
“As a brilliant demographer, he was also instrumental in confronting gerrymandering and giving ethnic communities equal representation in California and other states around the country,” she said.
“It was my privilege to know him,” Segura said in an announcement to the UCLA Luskin community. “We extend our deepest sympathies to the Estrada family. Leo will be profoundly missed.”
A private family ceremony will be held. UCLA Luskin is planning to host a campus memorial service for Estrada at a later date.
By Les Dunseith
The newest research center at UCLA Luskin aims to bring together scholars and policymakers to share information so that political leaders can make informed decisions on issues of interest to Latinos, and its Dec. 6, 2017, kickoff event exemplified that goal.
Students, faculty and administrative leaders from the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs and throughout UCLA were among a crowd of about 175 people that also included elected officials, community activists, business leaders and other stakeholders who gathered in downtown Los Angeles to celebrate the launch of the Latino Policy and Politics Initiative (LPPI).
Attendees had an opportunity to hear keynote speaker Kevin de León, current president pro tem of the California Senate and a candidate for the U.S. Senate, talk about recent legislation on issues related to such diverse topics as labor, good government, the environment and education. He was then joined by a panel of experts in a spirited discussion of the current national political climate and major issues that directly impact Californians, particularly Latinos and other communities of color.
“In the great state of California, we celebrate our diversity,” de León told the crowd. “We don’t ban it, we don’t wall it off, and we sure as hell don’t deport it.”
In his speech, de León talked about the state’s efforts to deal with climate change, to improve education and to provide a safe haven for all residents. For example, Senate Bill 54, the California Values Act, which de León championed, creates a safe zone at “our schools, our hospitals, our churches, courthouses and other sensitive locations so our undocumented immigrant communities can live their lives and conduct their businesses without fear.”
De León declared, “If this president wants to wage a campaign of fear against innocent families, he can count us out. Because the state of California won’t lift a single finger or spend a single dime to become a cog in the Trump deportation machine.”
One of the goals of LPPI, which received its startup funding from UCLA Luskin and the Division of Social Sciences, is to provide better access to information — real data, not alternative truths — to help leaders nationwide resist attacks on immigrants and also help them to craft new policies on other issues vital to Latinos.
“It is impossible to understand America today without understanding the Latino community and the power that it wields. And this institute is going to do that,” Scott Waugh, UCLA executive vice chancellor and provost, told the crowd.
“It’s going to harness all of the intellectual capacity that UCLA has — it’s going to be truly interdisciplinary,” Waugh explained. The co-founders of LPPI — Professor of Political Science and Chicana/o Studies Matt Barreto, UCLA Luskin Dean Gary Segura and LPPI Director Sonja Diaz MPP ’10 — “have a vision that reaches not just inside the School of Public Affairs but reaches out across the campus in areas like health, education, science, the arts — wherever Latinos have made a difference and continue to affect change in a profound way.”
Darnell Hunt, dean of the Division of Social Sciences at UCLA, noted in his remarks that the founding of LPPI comes at a particularly opportune time in American politics. “It goes without saying that we live in challenging times — challenging political times — and the Latino Policy and Politics Initiative will help us make sense of this contemporary setting with an eye toward transformative solutions.”
Barreto, who served as master of ceremonies for the night, spoke about the scope of LPPI’s vision. “We’re not only going to work on immigration reform — we know that immigration reform affects our community and we will work on that — but we are dedicated to work on every policy issue.”
He added, “Whether it has to do with climate change or clean energy, transportation, housing, homelessness, criminal justice or education, we are going to work on that. And we have experts at UCLA who will join us.”
Many of the 20 scholars from across the UCLA campus who are part of LPPI’s faculty advisory council attended the launch event, which began with a networking reception at La Plaza de Cultura Y Artes near Olvera Street, the founding site of Los Angeles itself. As musicians from La Chamba Cumbia Chicha performed, attendees had an opportunity to meet and exchange ideas with the featured speakers and various former and current elected officials in attendance, such as Gil Cedillo, the former state senator and current Los Angeles city councilman. Also in attendance were former California assemblyman and senator Richard Polanco and Amanda Rentería, the former national political director for Hillary Clinton’s campaign and now a staff member in the executive office of California Attorney General Xavier Becerra.
The event wrapped up with a panel discussion and Q&A moderated by Lucy Flores, a former assemblywoman in Nevada who now serves as vice president for public affairs for mitú, a multimedia enterprise that targets young Latinos. Panelists said that bolstering the number of Latino elected officials has been a vital step in bringing about positive change.
“In the end, votes are what count,” Segura said, noting that Latino’s political influence has not kept up with its rapid population growth. “In order for governments to enact policies that benefit Latinos, it is going to be required that Latinos be a significant share of elected officials.”
Panelist Laura E. Gómez, professor of law at UCLA and former interim dean of the Division of Social Sciences, expanded on that idea in light of a recent wave of disclosures related to sexual misconduct by men in positions of power.
“I think it’s really important … for us to realize that Latinos are a diverse community. We are not just men; we are also women. We are not just straight people; we are also gay and transgender people. And those are important numbers going forward,” she said.
Flores summed it up, “Demographics is not destiny.”
The fact that California often seems to be an outlier in the current national political climate was a recurring topic of the night, with several speakers praising Californians’ resistance to the policies of the current U.S. president. Can the state also serve as a model of progress?
“Despite all of the discord and disunity, California is standing tall for our values,” de León said during his speech. “From education to the environment, from high wages to health care, to human rights, to civil rights, to women’s rights, to immigrant rights, California is proof positive that progressive values put into action in fact improve the human condition regardless of who you are or where you come from.”
De León said California is a leader in innovation — “home to Hollywood and Silicon Valley and the best public university system in the world, the University of California. And we are on the cusp of surpassing the United Kingdom for the fifth largest economy on planet Earth.”
The state is thriving, he said, by doing exactly the opposite of what Donald J. Trump says. “We succeed because we are dreamers, not dividers. We succeed because we double down on lifting people up, not putting them down. We are not going to allow one election to erase generations of progress.”
“I want to ask for your partnership, because this is what we need to do — we need to train a new leadership pipeline that is diverse but also represents us substantively,” LPPI Founding Director Sonja Diaz told the audience.
Saying that UCLA is “arguably the finest public institution in the nation, if not the entire world,” De León spoke enthusiastically of the promise that LPPI represents for elected officials such as himself. “We need the empirical evidence, and it’s about time we have this institution established at UCLA.”
Later, when speaking about climate change during the panel discussion, he expanded on the idea that knowledge equals power.
“California has the ability — if we have access to this type of information, this data — to export our policies to other states, even to red states that may not believe in climate change per se,” de León said. “We are showing that, whether you believe in climate change or not, you can actually grow an economy by delinking and decoupling carbon from GDP.”
Access to data is important, but it takes real leadership to turn information into action. “You can have all the academics in the world, all the data, but it doesn’t make a difference if it just sits in a book on a shelf,” de León said. “You have to take that data and move it with political power to actually implement it, execute it, to improve the human condition.”
Segura said it is his goal — and the mission of LPPI — to unite scholars and policymakers for mutual benefit, helping academics turn research into actionable policy.
“Facts do matter. Facts may not be a good way to sell people who don’t want to hear them, but lots of well-meaning elected officials want information,” Segura said. “One of the jobs of the institute is going to be to take the data out of those dusty books and put them in the hands of policymakers in a useful time frame so that policymakers can respond.”
The Latino Policy & Politics Initiative is a comprehensive think tank around political, social and economic issues faced by California’s plurality population of Latinos and other people of color. Anyone interested in providing financial support may do so through the UCLA giving page for LPPI.
By George Foulsham
After fielding a series of challenging questions from students in UCLA Luskin lecturer Zev Yaroslavsky’s public policy class, California Secretary of State Alex Padilla and Los Angeles County Registrar Dean Logan smiled when they were asked to explain how the election of Donald Trump has affected their jobs.
“How much time do we have?” Padilla said. “I’ve gotten a heck of a lot more press coverage than anybody would have expected.”
Trump’s frequent charges of voter fraud in the November 2016 presidential election have been a source of frustration for Padilla. To say that the Trump administration has had an impact on his job would be an understatement.
“He keeps alleging massive voter fraud — which is absolutely not true,” Padilla said. “He has repeatedly mentioned California. He’s not just questioning my credibility; it’s our credibility. Whenever it’s in a story, which is pretty frequent, we have to go out, defend and explain all the measures we go through to protect the integrity of the election.”
As California’s top elections official, Padilla is tasked with protecting the votes and voters of the state.
“There’s fundamentally a different person, different leadership in the U.S. Department of Justice, the attorney general,” Padilla said. “That’s someone we look to as a partner to protect people’s voting rights. Depending on what may happen in the future, we may be butting heads with them on advancing public policy or interpretation of existing laws, enforcement of laws. Red flags are way, way up.”
The same holds true for Logan, who oversees all elections in L.A. County.
“It’s the continued repeating of information that’s not backed by any evidence or fact,” Logan said. “Ultimately — and it’s just my personal opinion — it is part of the same campaign: The ultimate end game of that is to decrease people’s confidence in the electoral process and for them to just sit out,” thus benefiting candidates with politically extreme views.
In introducing Padilla and Logan to the students in his class, Yaroslavsky hailed Padilla as a “national figure and leader” and Logan as “a visionary.”
“Between these two guys, you’ve got two of the best minds when it comes to elections,” Yaroslavsky said. Both fill important roles “that most people don’t know about. We take it for granted, like when we turn the water on in the morning. Running an election, making sure the votes are counted with integrity, is not to be taken for granted.”
Padilla told the students about his various statewide duties, including political reform, campaign finance reports and overseeing the state archives, but most of his talk concentrated on how he views his role as secretary of state.
“Academically, what can we do to get more people to vote in California? That’s not my job,” Padilla said. “My job is to oversee California elections and make sure there’s no voter fraud, but I think there’s an expectation that we use this job to get more people involved and engaged in the process.”
He’s proud of what his office has done to help increase the number of registered voters in California. “We’ve already shattered the previous record in California on the registration side,” Padilla said. “When I was sworn in, 17.4 million registered voters were on the books. We’re at 19.4 million now, quickly approaching 20 million.”
Starting next year, the state will launch automatic voter registration so that residents who are eligible will automatically be registered when they apply for or renew their driver’s license or a state ID at the Department of Motor Vehicles, online or by mail, Padilla said.
His ultimate goal is to increase voter participation. “We have an electorate that is not always representative of the people — geographically, demographically, economically or by any other measure,” Padilla said. “The better we get toward 100 percent participation, then from a ‘small d’ democracy standpoint, we get an electorate that better represents the people.”
Logan’s biggest challenge is managing the county’s antiquated voting infrastructure. “Here in L.A. County we are still using voting equipment that was first introduced in 1968 when Robert Kennedy was on the ballot,” he said. “We are very involved in a project here in L.A. County to modernize the voting system.”
If Logan and Padilla have their way, this won’t be a continuation of your mother’s voting methodology.
“Today the voting experience is focused on single-day, single-location and a single piece of equipment,” Logan said. “A random Tuesday, between 7 a.m. and 8 p.m. That makes no sense; that isn’t relevant to anything that we do on a regular basis.”
The new model will feature community vote centers all over Los Angeles County. “So if you live in Santa Monica, but you happen to work in downtown L.A.,” Logan said, “you can walk into a downtown vote center and get your Santa Monica ballot and vote.”
Other highlights of the new voting system:
- Voting centers will be open for a 10-day period, “so it’s not just on a random Tuesday,” Logan said.
- There will be mobile and pop-up voting centers. “So if there’s a big farmers market out at the Rose Bowl on the weekends, and there are going to be thousands of people there, we’re going to go out and throw up a vote center,” he said.
- Sample ballots will no longer be paper pamphlets delivered via the post office. “We’re going to offer an interactive sample ballot,” he said.
“It’s going to fundamentally change the way the voting experience works here in L.A. County,” said Logan, who added that he hopes to institute all of these changes by 2020.
Questions from Yaroslavsky’s students covered a variety of issues, from voter accessibility to campaign finance issues to frequency of elections, but the last question for Padilla was simple and direct: Are you thinking about running for governor in California?
“Thinking about it and doing it are two different things,” Padilla said. “I don’t dismiss that potential opportunity in the future, but not next year. I’m up for re-election next year.”
Additional photos are available here.