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Regardie: 2017 election turnout shaping up to be worst ever in Los Angeles

This file photo shows voting booths at the Los Angeles County Registrar/Recorder building in Norwalk on Friday, Oct. 17, 2014.
This file photo shows voting booths at the Los Angeles County Registrar/Recorder building in Norwalk on Friday, Oct. 17, 2014.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC

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Jon Regardie is the executive editor of the Los Angeles Downtown News, where this commentary appeared in different form.

Two years ago Los Angeles was a ballot box laughingstock when only slightly more than 20 percent of eligible voters turned up for the two elections for the open mayor’s seat. But unless something incredibly unlikely occurs, 2013 is going to look like a high point on the civic roller coaster.

The 2017 citywide election could give new meaning to the phrase “civic embarrassment.” How bad? We’re talking "The Godfather III" or McCourt-era Dodgers, and the reason is Mayor Eric Garcetti.

It’s not because the L.A. Times recently gave Garcetti a C for his performance as mayor, in part because of his tendency on important matters to be quieter than a mouse wearing slippers walking on a floor made of marshmallows.

No, the election problems will come because Garcetti gets an A+ for fundraising. In just the first six months of this year, Garcetti raised $2.2 million for re-election, shattering Villaraigosa’s record.

He got money from Broad and Caruso; Spielberg, Katzenberg, and Kimmel; and Kohan and Abrams. In that trip he took to Washington right before the you-know-what, Garcetti brought in almost $22,000.

I’m not blaming Garcetti here. A big part of being a first-term mayor is raising cash so you can also be a second-term mayor. But Garcetti’s fundraising prowess decreases the chances a reputable challenger will run – someone like Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, Rick Caruso, Council President Herb Wesson, or former Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky. They would force the mayor to defend his record. But with only token candidates, he can skate. That war chest is the political equivalent of The Wall on “Game of Thrones.”

The net result is that Angelenos will likely have little that compels them to the polls. If only 21 percent of those eligible came out in the 2013 primary when their vote actually mattered, how many can be expected to show up in 2017, when Garcetti’s re-election may be preordained?

Other factors could conspire to make 2017 the perfect storm of voter apathy.

While the 2009 mayor’s race was a snoozer, that year the race for city attorney was exciting, with a newbie named Carmen Trutanich running against Councilman Jack Weiss. Until he actually started doing the job, Trutanich was a breath of fresh air, and people felt their vote mattered. The current city attorney, Mike Feuer, might also depress voting numbers in 2017 because people like his performance ... and he’s raised $400,000.

There is the race for City Controller, but that won’t help turnout because most Angelenos have no idea what a controller is. I know I don’t. I think it’s something to do with moving sidewalks.

It’s early, but the eight city council races also look to be uninspiring. The incumbents are all men comfortably positioned for re-election, each likely to get big money from the usual suspects. Unless one of them is in a scandal involving cash, a donkey, a bathtub of Jell-O or – please, God! — all three, they will likely face only minor challengers. And minor challengers, as we have learned in class today, don’t bring out the voters.

So why am I here 18 months before the election talking with you about this? Because we have 18 months to do something to break the machine that keeps giving us insubstantial races.

One idea might be to go citywide with the voting lottery they held for an L.A. school board seat in May. Another might be putting a few hundred thousand dollars into a serious get-out-the-vote effort. Another idea: maybe Mayor Garcetti could agree to stop raising money now, allowing a second viable candidate to enter the race, giving the voters a legitimate choice in 2017. I know this sounds hopelessly stupid and naïve, but you got any better ideas?

 Leave them for us on the KPCCofframp Facebook page.