Democracy, Los Angeles Style
On March 3, Los Angeles held a municipal election. Ballot measures included changing the time of year that we vote, education trustees, and, most important, members of City Council. In our district, 14 hopefuls ran to replace the termed-out incumbent. Only 61 votes separated the top-two, who advance to a May run-off, and the guy in third, who does not.
In many other districts, no run-off will be necessary. All the incumbents won handily, some unopposed. What was similar in every district was the voter turnout: The winners earned between 5-10% of the eligible votes. In council districts that contain around 250,000 voters, it only took about 10,000-20,000 votes to get the keys to the fiefdom.
To maintain the proper equilibrium, the miniscule participation of the electorate was balanced somewhat by the gigantic participation of special interests. Councilman Jose Huizar, who’s managed to keep a sexual harassment lawsuit against him off the front page of the Times, collected $856,000 from “outside interests” – groups with interests that extend beyond his East LA duchy. Ironically, by not voting, most citizens of Los Angeles made the bribers spend more per-voter than if many of us had exercised our God-given, constitutionally guaranteed right to elect our leaders. At least someone cares about these elections, especially if their company/industry/union/development has business before the City Council.
Even with that small consolation, might our city be better off if the electorate hadn’t effectively abdicated the responsibility of choosing representatives? If we were a more engaged electorate, would we be able to elect better stewards of our neighborhoods and our treasure? Maybe not. But at least the bag men and women who gravitate toward politics would know they were accountable to more than a tenth of their constituents (and 100% of their financial benefactors).
Let the kvetching commence. There’s much to complain about. But if you don’t care about which future criminal represents you at City Hall, most of us won’t be listening.