Why are local elections so important?
“Your mayor and members of city council can have more of an impact on your daily life than you think. If you have trouble with the streets in your neighborhood, or trash or bulky items that aren’t being picked up, or stop lights that need to be installed, your senator or congressman probably won’t be able to help you, but your representative to the city council can,” said Raphael Sonenshein, executive director of the Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs at Cal State Los Angeles, and a leading expert who has written three books on Los Angeles politics. “If there is a problem with your local school, the people who can help you are the school board members. Local politics often impact your daily life more than you realize.
An esteemed professor at Cal State Fullerton for decades, Sonenshein recently spoke at a panel alongside Jodi Balma, a Fullerton College political science professor and host of the “A Slice of Orange” podcast, about the upcoming election. and why people should care about local politics.
“A few weeks ago my phone exploded,” Sonenshein said. “You may have heard of an infamous recording made by three members of the Los Angeles City Council? The release of this recording fundamentally overwhelmed the political conversation in Los Angeles. It had such visibility that I was getting calls from the East Coast and other parts of the world, wondering what was going on. I couldn’t even talk about it until several days later it was so disturbing. Only now, weeks later, have we turned our attention to the upcoming elections in Los Angeles and Orange Counties.
“One of the most overlooked aspects of this taped conversation, once you stop listening to the vitriol, is the resistance to generational change,” Sonenshein said. “The political landscape is changing and many politicians feel very uncertain or threatened by the different needs of different groups. The most consistent voters tend to be older whites. In early voting so far, 77% of voters are over 55. But that is starting to change.
“For example, take the housing market. Most older voters own homes and are looking for stability. However, young voters in Southern California fear they will never be able to afford a home, so housing affordability is a big issue for them.
“Climate change is also high on the list of things young voters worry about,” he continued. “They fear that the world will change, and not for the good, before they get old. Older voters are more concerned about crime and public safety. If elected officials want to be taken seriously by young voters, they must respond to the needs that these new voters deem important.
Sonenshein also added that Asian Americans and Hispanics are increasingly active.
Recent polls suggest that while older whites are still most likely to vote, Asian Americans are second and their numbers are growing. Latinos, who typically register as Democrats, often trade votes for Republican candidates who they believe are more in touch with their concerns.
Each electoral bloc has concerns and is looking for someone to take care of what they believe to be important issues. Politicians who ignore them do so at their peril.
So why aren’t more people voting in local elections?
“We’re pretty good at registering voters, but we’re not good at explaining why it matters,” he said. “We need to put more energy into educating people about why their vote matters. We are on the razor’s edge in the choice of democracy or an autocratic political system. The fact is that if you don’t vote, at some point you may no longer have the opportunity to choose between the candidates.
Balma suggested voters look to sites like votersedge.org/ca to find more specific information…and also look to see who supports different candidates.
“Follow the money,” she advised. “And look for ‘spoiler’ candidates – some companies will add another candidate into the mix to siphon off votes from the candidate they don’t want to win.”
She held up a wad of recent flyers that were sent by various candidates.
“Some of them are ridiculous,” she said. “A cute photo of a candidate running next to a photo of his frowning opponent. Crazy accusations, words taken out of context… there are all sorts of ways to make you think the opposing candidate is awful. Look at who supports the candidate. Or better yet, go to a trusted resource.
Here are some of the recommendations made by Balma:
Both panelists advised people to get involved in local elections and local politics. Elected officials often appoint people to committees to study specific issues.
“Once you get involved, you can be part of the solution to the problems we face,” Balma said.