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Census 2020 and Its Impact on Los Angeles Experts and community organizers discuss a potential citizenship question on the U.S. Census and how to prevent undercounts in minority communities

By Gabriela Solis

With the next U.S. Census in 2020 drawing near, political and community leaders are working now to plan strategically and ensure that all communities are accurately counted in Los Angeles.

With that in mind, a recent panel discussion hosted by Sonja Diaz, executive director of the Latino Policy and Politics Initiative (LPPI), focused on issues related to the 2020 Census.

The Trump administration has pushed to add a question about respondents’ citizenship status to the 2020 Census, and accurate counts of communities across Los Angeles are threatened, many experts say. According to research by UCLA Professor Matt Barreto, 69.9 percent of Latinos, 39.4 of blacks and 99.9 percent of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders expressed concern that the citizenship question would lead to their immigration status being shared with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

“Community groups need to prepare … With or without a citizenship question, there will remain major concerns and fear among our communities,” Barreto told a crowd on the UCLA campus during an April 24 panel discussion about the Census.

Barreto, who is faculty co-director of LPPI, and other experts have noted that billions of dollars in federal program funding is at stake. The Census also determines the number of representatives for each state in the U.S. House, so an undercount could cost California some political clout.

To ensure this does not happen, community organizations can play a vital role.

Erica Bernal-Martinez is chief operating officer of the National Association of Latino Elected Official (NALEO) Educational Fund, the nation’s leading nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that facilitates full Latino participation in the American political process. Even without a citizenship question, Bernal-Martinez said, many vulnerable communities are often undercounted.

Members of Bernal-Martinez’s organization work closely with community leaders across the United States in an effort dubbed Get Out the Count. This year, children are one of the campaign’s focuses, because “400,000 Latino children were not counted in the 2010 census,” she said.

Los Angeles County represents a fourth of the state’s population, and it is one of California’s hardest-to-count regions, particularly within the county’s most diverse neighborhoods in central and east Los Angeles, and south to Compton. But there are best practices that can increase participation even in communities that often have low civic engagement.

For example, Berenice Nuñez, vice president of government relations at Altamed, shared her agency’s tactic to promote election participation in communities with low-propensity voters. Altamed is the largest federally qualified health center in California, and the organization produced an innovative voter mobilization campaign aimed to inform, empower and mobilize their patients and employees during the November 2018 midterm elections.

The campaign included such strategies as canvassing, registering legal residents to vote, distributing bilingual voter guides, sending phone messages about upcoming elections while patients were on hold, and providing transportation assistance on Election Day.

An analysis conducted by LPPI of Altamed’s campaign found remarkable success for the strategy. The Latino vote increased by 432 percent in South Gate and 330 percent in Boyle Heights, which were two targeted communities.

“I challenge you to join us at the table to make sure our communities are counted,” said Nuñez, who encouraged community leaders in attendance at a UCLA event in April to use the Altamed campaign as a model for future elections — and to ensure participation in minority communities during the 2020 U.S. Census.

America in the Balance A Senior Fellows talk at UCLA Luskin by two political veterans reminds students that legislative success in America depends on compromise, not on who can yell the loudest  

By Les Dunseith

Today, national politics is dominated by rancor, name-calling and partisanship. The pressure to pick a side and take up the battle against enemies on the political left or right can seem particularly intense for the students who study public policy at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. As former GOP gubernatorial candidate William “Bill” Simon reminded attendees during a Senior Fellows Lecture Series discussion on June 8, 2017, actually getting things done in politics requires compromise and consensus.

“I feel very strongly that there is a role for sensibility. There is a role for courtesy,” Simon told a group of UCLA Luskin students and faculty members. “You have to have courtesy for people who don’t agree with you.”

The value of being open-minded was particularly apt given that the spirited discussion took place on the UCLA campus and also included political strategist Dan Schnur, who is a faculty member at cross-town rival USC.

“It’s really easy to point to the most irrational and repulsive voices on the other side and use them as an excuse not to engage with someone who doesn’t agree with you,” Schnur said of the current political climate. “I remind people that someone who disagrees with me 80 percent of the time isn’t my enemy. She’s someone I can work with 20 percent of the time. And think of what we can accomplish in that 20 percent.”

A wide-ranging Q&A session included discussions about volunteerism, student activism and speculation about the 2018 California governor’s race. The speakers addressed international issues like climate change. But the session was dominated by talk of the turmoil in Washington, D.C.

The gathering was organized by VC Powe, director of career services and leadership development, in part because of a request from students — some of them from other countries.

“College campuses like UCLA can be liberal-leaning, so it was great to see students come forward, asking for speakers who could talk about the current presidential administration from a more conservative and independent-thinking viewpoint,” Powe said. “We need to create more spaces like this for meaningful dialogue.”

Schnur is registered as a “no party preference” voter nowadays, but his resumé includes stints working as a communications director for Republican Sen. John McCain and a former GOP governor of California, Pete Wilson. Simon is a businessman and philanthropist who has co-taught a class at USC with Schnur and also serves as a visiting professor at UCLA in law and economics. He described himself during the UCLA gathering as an “unapologetic conservative Republican.”

Simon told the students that America is currently at an important intersection in history in which political consensus has eroded. He reminded them of another highly charged time of partisan politics.

“You had a conservative Republican like Ronald Reagan in the ’80s who could still get something done with a liberal Democrat like Tip O’Neill,” he said of the former president and House speaker, who ended up finding enough common ground to produce landmark reforms of welfare, taxes and Social Security. “And I think that has now been lost.”

The current political discord may turn out to be a historical aberration, Schnur said, pointing out that it’s a worthwhile reminder of what makes America unique. By happenstance, the UCLA session occurred on the same day as opening testimony by former FBI Director James Comey about whether President Donald Trump had acted improperly in seeking to derail an investigation of possible ties to Russia among Trump allies.

“A country’s chief executive is being questioned for what the head of our domestic law enforcement agency called ‘deeply disturbing behavior,’ and there is a constitutional process in place for another branch or branches of government to check that behavior should it become necessary,” Schnur said. “Whether you are a Republican or a Democrat, whether you are a no party preference or a Green or a Libertarian or a vegetarian, you ought to be able to take some real comfort, if not some real pride, in the idea … that there is a process and a system in place to address these potential excesses in a completely appropriate and legal and constitutional manner.”

Both Schnur and Simon said the country’s political divide certainly is being exacerbated by the actions and behavior of Trump.

“This is as much hatred as I have ever seen for a person in the political arena. And I think that’s too bad,” said Simon, who noted that he personally dislikes the president and questions his tactics despite agreeing with certain actions, including his choice of Neil Gorsuch to join the U.S. Supreme Court.

“But 62 million people voted for Trump. So obviously there is something going on,” Simon said.

He said many people who voted for Trump did so because they felt like their views had been overlooked.

“They didn’t trust anybody that got elected, Republican or Democrat. It was just a way of protesting the establishment,” Simon suggested. “It wasn’t so much that Trump resonated with them politically. Trump resonated with them emotionally. Because he was angry.”

Schnur said he also is no fan of Trump. He thinks the current political gridlock in Washington likely will be transitory and noted that the 2016 election result is already motivating party leaders to rethink policy positions and election strategy. Perhaps the end result will be a more thoughtful, reflective American electorate.

“Politics doesn’t lead society. Politics reflects society,” he said.

Schnur pulled out his cellphone and spoke about the wonderful sense of freedom and empowerment it provides to him, noting the near-constant flow of information and access to entertainment, ideas and opinions.

Then he pointed to the ear buds.

“As soon as I put these plugs in my ears to listen to my favorite music, I immediately lose any interest in what you are listening to,” Schnur said, motioning toward Simon as he continued the metaphor. “If I have one set of cable stations, and he has another. If I have one set of podcasts and websites, and he has another … we are not just disagreeing on the issues of the day. We are experiencing two entirely different versions of reality.”

Turning back to the gathering of students and faculty, and hinting at their desire to weather the current political storm and pursue careers that improve American policy, Schnur continued.

“What can we do? We can take the plugs out of our ears.”

Policy vs. Political Reality Former Michigan Congressman Bob Carr shares his insights with UCLA Luskin students, faculty and fellows during a week as a Regents Lecturer

By Zev Hurwitz and Stan Paul

Public policy students at UCLA frequently study the goings-on in Congress as a matter of historical fact, but the learning really comes to life when a Capitol Hill veteran makes his way to the Public Affairs Building in person.

That’s exactly what happened when M. Robert “Bob” Carr, a former longtime congressman from Michigan, spent several days at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, lecturing and meeting with Public Policy students. Carr, a former Luskin Senior Fellow, visited Luskin May 15-19, 2017, as a Regents Lecturer — part of the University of California’s Regents Professors and Lecturers Program.

During a busy week at UCLA Luskin, Carr spoke to public policy graduate students over lunch, participated in a Senior Fellows conversation, lectured to intimate groups of students and faculty, spoke to students in a first-year public policy course, and held a series of one-on-one office meetings with Luskin students.

Carr served 18 years in Congress between 1975 and 1995 in a district that includes Michigan’s capital, Lansing. He currently serves as adjunct professor of ethics and congress at George Washington University’s Graduate School of Political Management.

Public Policy Department Chair and Professor Mark Peterson introduced Carr during a May 17 lecture, noting that the former congressman was elected to the House of Representatives as a Democrat in an otherwise heavily Republican district in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal.

“As we know, Congress goes on to experience all kinds of periods of time, including the current one,” Peterson said. “Few people have more insight on that than Bob Carr.”

Wednesday’s talk was titled “Congress: A Political Institution, Not a Policy Shop” and focused on the nuances of policy pursuits in a highly politically charged governmental body.

“In most languages, ‘policy’ and ‘politics’ are the same word,” Carr said. “I’ve wondered out loud how this affects our thinking about these areas. We tend to categorize — that’s how we communicate. In English, ‘politics’ and ‘policy’ are related, but have two very different meanings.”

Carr discussed how different branches of the government interact with policy, noting that the rules of the House of Representatives tend to mandate a focus on procedure over policy-formation.

“If I have all the right arguments, I’ve got the best policy prescription, I’ve done critical thinking, and everyone agrees with me — but I don’t know the rule book — I’m not going to win,” he said. “Procedure will win every time over policy and politics.”

In the Senate, however, policy and procedure are secondary to the political environment.

“Senators are very important people. If you don’t know that, just ask them,” he joked.

Because the Senate places less emphasis on rules, every Senator has the ability to hold up legislation. “Every Senator, regardless of where they’re from or their party, is essentially equal, and they cling to that equality,” he said.

Because both chambers of Congress vary on their priorities and operations, policymaking is strained when the two chambers need to work together to pass bills, that arise from differing priorities. The executive branch, by contrast, lays out a policy agenda but is powerless to act unilaterally to introduce new laws.

A more productive form of government, he said, is one where the executive branch is not operating in a manner inherently at odds with the legislature.

“It’s relatively efficient,” he said of parliamentary democracies such as in the United Kingdom. “Parliamentary systems are designed to make things happen.”

Carr’s talk to UCLA Luskin Senior Fellows, “Can This Divided Congress Govern?” was moderated by Bill Parent, lecturer in the Department of Public Policy.

Carr provided a bit of U.S. history, discussing the political environment of the late 1700s. Carr said that at that time the framers of the Constitution did not want another Parliament, which he said was making life in the colonies “miserable,” citing the passage of the Stamp Act as one example.

In addition to making laws, budgets and playing a key role in the balance of power, “what’s the job of Congress?” Carr asked the audience. “Congress is about politics. Congress is about the struggle, not the policy,” he said.

“Can you have democracy in America if you don’t have democracy in the House?” he asked. “No, you can’t. And we don’t have democracy in the House today.”

Asked what a run for Congress in a state like Michigan would look like in today’s environment, Carr said it would not consist of a single message. Considering the makeup of the state, “It just wouldn’t work. You have to make a connection, find out what their story is. The message has to speak to the people’s story.”

When asked what things he would like to see change, Carr listed:

  • Gerrymandering, especially in an age of computers and big data. “Members of Congress are selecting their constituency and not the other way around,” he said.
  • Campaign finance, which he said is a corrupted system, citing super PACS and the “terrorism of money.”
  • And getting rid of the filibuster and a “return to a majoritarian body,” Carr said. “I know people on my side of the aisle go nuts about that, but long-term we have to transact with the American people.”