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A Few Hours of Democracy in L.A. — Signs of Life among the Living Dead

For a few hours Wednesday afternoon, the Los Angeles City Council actually acted like a legislative body debating issues of great public importance as if they represented democracy in action — instead of a conspiracy to hoodwink the people and sell out the public interest.

The issues that caught my ear as I listened in were the Instant Runoff Voting ballot measure and the Luxury Tax on big houses.

The sell in both cases amounted to money, nothing but money. And why not when the city admits to a $110 million current deficit and a looming $400 million shortfall and knows it will get worse in the months ahead.

Instant Runoff is one of those great ideas that works in really democratic communities where there’s lots of candidates for every office, a contentious political environment and competitive races — towns like Berkeley or Santa Monica or Cambridge, Mass.

It eliminates runoff elections by having voters number their first choice, second choice and so on. So when no one gets a majority, the also-rans are eliminated and the second choices are counted until a majority is attained.

In L.A., the unions and such great advocates for the masses as Jackie Goldberg and other ultra-liberals are gung-ho for it because they believe it will all but eliminate the pretense of city elections and allow them to indulge their destructive political fantasies for decades to come no matter what the people think.

Surprisingly, the argument that eliminating runoffs would save millions fell apart because election officials pointed out the near impossibility of doing that in isolation from the state and and county and Councilman Dennis Zine honed in on the fact it would actually cost more for the next few years at the least.

Others spoke up like Jan Perry and noted that underdogs in L.A. stand almost no chance in elections that are as lopsided in fund-raising and insider support as they are unless they can force a runoff. The playing field levels then as it did in her upset win to her first term.

Councilman Richard Alarcon’s class warfare against the rich was even more inspiring since what he proposed had even less merit.

Frankly, I could sooner support a soak-the-rich city income tax than go along with charging them money because they have a big house as Alarcon wants. That at least would represent an honest socialist point of view about redistributing the wealth rather than taxing them on the presumption that owning a big house requires more city services.

By that illogic, residents of poor, crime-ridden neighborhoods would pay higher taxes because they require more cops and support services than affluent hillside residents.

Bill Rosendahl actually got testy about it — a violation of the council’s rules of tepid engagement and unanimous agreement — and Alarcon bristled at the violation, arguing the $10 million his plan would raise would make his class warfare supporters happy even if it wouldn’t do anything to solve the massive deficit problem.

All in all, I took it as a good sign that there was still some life left in City Hall politicians. Maybe, just maybe they aren’t dead souls.Maybe they are just the living dead and we can still resurrect them if we can awaken ourselves.

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One Response to A Few Hours of Democracy in L.A. — Signs of Life among the Living Dead

  1. gautam says:

    Actually, yesterday’s debate exposed a pronounced lack of leadership on the Council’s part.
    Here’s the real question: Why was the Council willing to vote for a DWP solar power initiative that will cost up to $3 billion, but not for an election reform that will save taxpayers $8 to $9 million?
    Here are the facts on an invaluable reform that has been embraced by Barack Obama, John McCain, Ralph Nader, Richard Riordan, the LA Area Chamber of Commerce, John Chiang, Laura Chick, and many others (full details at
    1. By eliminating wasteful runoff elections, IRV will save LA taxpayers $8 to $9 million (source: LA City Clerk’s report).
    2. Last year, barely 6 percent of voters showed up for an LA community college runoff election — which cost us taxpayers $5.5 million, or $40 per voter. That’s what led Councilmembers Rosendahl, Huizar, and Reyes to support Instant Runoff Voting (IRV).
    By eliminating wasteful runoff elections, IRV will boost voter turnout — which has already sunk to 6 percent. After this Presidential election, how many Angelenos do you think will show up for the May 2009 city runoff election?
    3. IRV is easy to use: you simply vote for your first, second, and third choices (1-2-3). If your first choice is eliminated, you won’t need to vote again in a separate runoff: your vote will automatically go to your SECOND choice.
    4. IRV can make it easier for underdogs to win — by eliminating the spoiler (Nader/Perot) effect. Currently, voters are often reluctant to “waste” their vote on an underdog candidate. By allowing voters to rank their choices, IRV solves this dilemma. With IRV, voters could vote for an underdog candidate as their first choice, and a more established candidate as their second choice.
    5. IRV will not force the City to buy new voting machines — the City has to buy them anyway. Due to flaws with the current InkaVote system, the City will be required to spend up to $35 million for new voting equipment, REGARDLESS of whether IRV is adopted. It would only take an additional $600,000 to adapt new equipment for IRV — a smart investment that would result in cost savings of $8 to $9 million per election.
    I too had hoped the City Council would collectively show some degree of leadership and vision on IRV. Unfortunately, a majority of the Council didn’t.

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