No Peaceful Assembly for Los Angeles

MAILANDER ON POLITICS - The dream-and-dollar chasers known as candidates for the California State Assembly do things a little differently in Los Angeles, especially in the San Fernando Valley, and also on the Westside.

In other parts of the State, citizens depend on their Assembly members to represent the interests of their favored party, and even, on occasion--don't faint--their own communities.  

But with the fat salaries of Los Angeles City Council luring prospective Assembly alumni, and a generally neglectful, sometimes even language-challenged voting public rarely aware of the extent of the districts in which they live, let alone engaging any of the real issues facing their districts, many of the State's and even the nation's top corporations and lobbyists feel free to buy themselves decisive representation right here in fast and loose LA, where the Valley's and Valley-adjacent Assembly seats have the fastest and loosest reps of all.

This time around, three races in the Valley for three open Assembly seats have all succumbed to proxy wars originating in Sacramento; and this time around, the Valley constituents are rarely even asked to learn what their truly local community issues are, let alone to vote on one.

Take the race in Assembly District 46, where Sacto's proxy wars reign supreme and local issues are scarcely heard at all.  A Republican named Jay Stern is the wild card in this race.  Or a Republican named Mitt Romney is.  Or a powerful lobbyist named John Ek is.  Or teachers unions are.  Or charter schools are.  Or lesbians are.  Or smokers are ...

Possibly the wildest race in the State, the 46th features one credible Republican, Stern, who figures to grab somewhere between 18 percent and 35 percent of the vote, depending on various turnout models.  And because the models vary so much, the results can really change based on which other group in the district is most actively mobilized.  And those groups have swooped in and taken over.

With Romney clinching the nomination, Republican enthusiasm for voting figures to be light.  But Democratic enthusiasm for voting may drop off even more precipitously, as Democrats Brian Johnson and Adrin Nazarian have done everything but club each other in the run-up to the primary, at the behest of their own top backers.  

Johnson is dialed into the State's charter reform battalions, popular in white Valley neighborhoods but also polarizing, and making him a target of teachers unions throughout the State, who have backed Nazarian.

Nazarian, dodging potential ethics troubles, has refunded money to select lobbyists, including the notorious Ek, around April 9; on April 23, he finally went on Leave of Absence from Paul Krekorian's staff to conduct the balance of his campaign, and many thought he stayed too long.  

Further skewing the race is the impact of Proposition 29, the Smoking Tax initiative; and to the degree that there is overlap between Armenians, smokers, and mobilized voters, that could give Nazarian enough of a boost to get into the runoff and displace either Stern or Johnson.  

Longtime community figure Laurette Healey is also said to be closing strong with support from the GLBT community, which matters to her enough that she refers to it as the LGBT community; whichever way you like to spell that community, it's mostly hers in this race.

While the Johnson/Nazarian duel is a prospective Sacto-driven tossup, the race next door in the 39th between Councilman Richard Alarcon and Raul Bocanegra has not embraced many local issues at its highest reaches, either.  There are indeed local issues aplenty to embrace: Bocanegra's new ties to longstanding Valley Latino power broker James Acevedo are an expression of extending the reach of Latino power in the Valley, a movement that Alarcon himself once was presented as the vanguard of.  

But some of Alarcon's old buddies have turned to Bocanegra, while Alarcon has been barking at big banks for some time now in office and is also friendlier to labor than ever, receiving solid union backing in the race.  

Ethics charges and counter-charges have volleyed back and forth between the two.  What's happening at street-level in the 39th, and what their Sacramento Assembly rep can truly do for the district, remains as much a mystery to most voters as how the district itself has been redrawn.

Finally, the race that straddles the Santa Monica Mountains, the District 50 race, between Torie Osborn and Betsy Butler, which touches the southwest rim of the Valley and includes west LA and Santa Monica out to Malibu, is one of the top tree-killers in LA history, with mailboxes filled daily as the Sacto largesse received by both candidates threatens to warrant the need for an extra recycling center.  

Osborn's carefully cultivated reputation as a nationally-known gay and lesbian advocate has, in the words of the Huffington Post's Steve Early, "bucked the legislative leadership in Sacramento, which is circling the wagons around her main opponent."

At least, that's what the HuffPo contributor would like you to believe; Osborn has been a HuffPo contributor herself, as have many of her backers; Paul Hogarth of the HuffPo similarly called Butler a "carpetbagger" in February and claimed of Butler that Sacto Assembly Speaker John Perez had "gone all out to help her defeat" Osborn.  

Ironically, Osborn's highly-nuanced tunings to Westside alt-liberalism have often been displaced in media by these expressions of concern about Butler's home address.

When Butler felt obliged to move into the 50th to run for office after the census-imposed redistricting, it didn't bother many in Sacto, who had signed into law the redistricting plan that changed the longtime Westside resident's district.  

But much pixelated ink about this somewhat nonchalant move into a district that has no previous geographical identity has been spilled, both ways--and how to go about healing the Bay, preserving the splendor of the mountains, checking development, and many top issues have gone begging for media oxygen while Osborn and Butler trade off mainstream and alternative Sacto lobbies.  

The flood of mailings and accusations have largely left voters feeling beleaguered, even cynical about a race in which the top candidates ironically share much politically.

The City of Los Angeles now boasts a population that is greater than that of the entire United States of America's in the first US Census.  But it's hard to imagine Thomas Jefferson refunding money to lobbyists, or John Adams fretting too much about James Madison's new home address.  

If the public once again does not turn out for Tuesday's primary election in a representative way, it may not entirely be a reflection of apathy.  It may in fact be an expression of sensible cynicism for an odd stripe of local rule, one in which local issues are mostly invisible, and the issues largely determined by the power players of a State Capitol over 400 miles distant, where legislators too often fail to connect to voters on issues that truly impact them.

(Joseph Mailander is a writer, an LA observer and a contributor to CityWatch. He is also the author of The Plasma of Terror. Mailander blogs at

Tags: Joseph Mailander, State Assembly, Election, Primary Election, Mitt Romney, Richard Alarcon, John Perez, Jay Stern, Sacramento, LA Politics, Sacramento Politics

Vol 10 Issue 44
Pub: June 1, 2012