Polls Indicate It’s Time To Change…Election Day in Los Angeles?

Last week the Los Angeles Times published a well publicized poll on the Mayoral race, just a few weeks from Election Day in March.
There wasn’t a lot to be surprised by, aside form the fact that Mayor Hahn’s approval ratings are lower than I’d expected. Mack Reed at did a nice short analysis of the numbers which is worth reading.
But the other story that came to mind for me was that the poll says, without actually saying it, that it’s time to consider moving Los Angeles municipal elections to coincide with the normal June Primary/November Election cycle most other elections abide by.
It may not seem obvious at first, but consider that in the poll, former Assembly Speaker Bob Hertzberg seems to be suffering from a lack of familiarity with voters. Now that’s not to say that they haven’t been trying – Bob’s been in the race for some time now, and he’s made a tremendous effort reaching voters since mid July.
Unfortunately, despite the spin from the campaign, he’s up against the fact that most people don’t know who he is, aside from his former constituents.
For all the hoo-hah about his website, most voters haven’t been looking for it, and the online ad campaigns done so early in the race were nice, but did more to reach the “blogosphere” and insiders than it did voters (Which is fine, but still, it’s only part of the game).
That’s why most of his time has been forced into raising money for TV ads, which started early, and will have to hit voters at the end of this month, along with all the other TV ads the other candidates can purchase in one of America’s most expensive media markets. (Even if you have 2.4 million dollars like Mayor Hahn, you still can’t do a saturation buy in L.A.)
So what? So, the fact is that Hertzberg’s situation is one that comes up not because he’s unpopular, necessarily, but because he’s not well-known to everyone in every corner of the city the way the Mayor, or 2001 candidate Antonio Villaraigosa, is, and he’s got a time/money crunch that makes his job that much harder.
He’s also not unique in the situation either – State Senator Richard Alarcon has even worse numbers, and is known by less people (and he’s less likely to raise the money needed to pay for a big TV buy than Hertzberg is). Bernie Parks is known by lots of people, and, well, maybe that’s why he is where he is.
Now, I’m not suggesting we need to change the election schedule to accommodate ex-legislators and their political ambitions. Far from it. Instead, I’d suggest that it’s time to have local elections match up with regular state elections, not just to save money, but also to have the election conducted when people are more likely to be paying attention.
This is an important election, and yet most people barely get a chance to hear much before they’re asked to fill in the oval for some guy running for mayor.
Whenever you hear someone say we need a “short election cycle” or that “elections take too long” as the patter of some “reform” effort, what they’re really saying is “don’t have elections that last too long so we can protect the people already there.”
I’d argue that in this case, we could go from a hyper-abbreviated cycle that serves no one well, to a normal cycle that would allow more time for everyone to make his or her case to the votes, and boost participation.
Certainly it would be nice to see incumbents sweat it out in a traditional campaign cycle, and allow for some real investigative reporting to develop on each of the candidates. Perhaps we’d even see some more coverage of competitive council races, such as the one being waged in the 11th Council District out here on the Westside.
Other cities have made changes to their local elections to increase interest, with various results. San Francisco, upon adopting district elections for their Board of Supervisors, moved their local elections to coincide with even-year elections in the fall, when more people are likely to vote.
That wasn’t popular with some special interests in town, nor was it necessarily popular with politicians, but it did have the effect of increasing interest in local elections.
Such a change may be difficult in L.A. But if we can think about big issues, like how to make LA a great city to live in, certainly we can also think about technocratic issues, like making election time relevant to Joe and Jane Average Voter.
© 2003-2006 Greg Dewar | All Rights Reserved | Originally Published at www.schadelmann.com

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