Represent!

Politics, government and public life for Southern California

LA City Council mostly cool to 2020 Commission recommendations

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The 2020 Commission's recommendations on how to improve L.A.'s economic future received a mixed reaction from the City Council Tuesday. And one idea in particular got a decidedly cold shoulder:  the suggestion that the city move its elections in an attempt to improve voter turnout. 

The recommendation was one of 13 presented by the blue ribbon 2020 Commission, appointed by council President Herb Wesson and co-chaired by former U.S. Commerce Secretary Mickey Kantor and the city's former jobs czar, Austin Beutner.

The commission's recommendations weren't met with much more enthusiasm than the group's initial report, issued in January. At that time, numerous council members took exception with the commission's assessment that L.A. is a city in decline.  

On Tuesday, co-chair Kantor said the commission wasn't appointed to be cheerleaders for the city.

Much of the session was devoted to poor voter turnout for municipal elections. Just one-in-five registered voters in the city — about 419,000 people — bothered to visit the polls for last year's mayoral race between Eric Garcetti and Wendy Greuel. That vote came in May of an odd-numbered year — not a time when most voters expect to head to the polls. The 2020 Commission recommended the city's elections be moved onto ballots with state and federal races.

In the 2012 presidential election, Los Angeles County saw 70 percent voter turnout, according to the Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk. 

According to the 2020 Commission report: "Lower turnout means greater influence by narrow, special interests. If we move our municipal elections to coincide with federal and state elections, this would encourage a larger and more diverse group of voters to engage with local politics and diminish the impact of lobbyists and special interests."  

That was met with resistance from the City Council. 

"I actually don't think that it minimizes special interests — I think it maximizes them," said Councilman Mike Bonin. "I think elections then become slates. I think it enhances parties." 

Councilman Tom LaBonge would favor consolidation if judges were not included on the ticket, he said, because judicial races "make the ballot very slow."

Councilman Bob Blumenfield told the commission he believes voters wouldn't make it all the way through a ballot to vote in local races if federal and state candidates dominated the top of the ticket. 

Kantor, the commission's co-chair, noted that even with ballot drop off, there would likely be more participation in a consolidated election. 

“Voters are very smart. They know how to go down ballot," he said. “Even if there is [drop off], it would still be twice as many voters. Much more diverse. Much less subject to special interests.”

A separate commission appointed by Wesson is looking at what Los Angeles can do to engage more voters at election time. 

Other commission recommendations — such as merging the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, and creating an Office of Transparency — were also met with skepticism and non-commitment from the city council. Wesson said he would ultimately assign various recommendations to council members for further review.

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