For a city full of judgmental, opinionated people, we gave an amazingly small amount of shit about the election.
A couple of weeks ago, we hosted the Oscars again, a contest that has virtually no impact on any of our lives, and for which relatively few of us get to vote. Tuesday, we had an election in which the entire city had a chance to change the course of the woefully bloated and oft-maligned Los Angeles Unified School District. Take a guess which contest got more attention.
Let us back up a moment.
Up for grabs in this election were four of seven LAUSD Board of Education seats. This is important because a regime change in the board is a major step toward school reforms that Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has been pushing since before he was elected. This is important because the LAUSD has been such a muddy knot of bureaucracy and incompetence for so long that most people have more or less given up on the idea of ever changing it. Then this opportunity presented itself.
As obvious as it seemed, I wanted to make sure that voting for the challenger -- who, in my district, was a criminal prosecutor named Tamar Galatzan -- was, in fact, the right thing to do. So I went around soliciting opinions. About half the people I asked didn’t even know we were having an election. Some knew, but didn’t know what it was about. One guy thought he knew, but didn’t recall getting a sample ballot. One guy found out about it the same way we find out about a new Chinese restaurant in the neighborhood: junk mail.
Ah, the junk mail. It began a few weeks ago, and it was largely pro-Galatzan. I don’t remember seeing this much junk mail in any election, ever. Fliers, foldouts, letters, one-sheets, and on and on. It conveyed pretty much the same two things: Galatzan was a proud parent and prosecutor who had the backing of the mayor; and the incumbent, Jon Lauritzen, was a failure in every way. Galatzan’s camp even sent out a “report card” on Jon Lauritzen, citing low marks in a number of “subjects.” (They gave him a D in Trimming Bureaucracy.)
Seeking more constructive commentary, I sought out two people I know who have worked with LAUSD. The first friend I called told me that while the teachers’ union was supporting the incumbent, the consensus among teachers was that the incumbent was dead weight. The conversation with the other friend -- which actually took place after the election -- proved a little more cryptic.
Me: Should we care about who we vote for?
Her: We should care.
Me: I should have picked Galatzan because that might change the makeup of the board and lead to changes in the LAUSD, right?
Her: Right. (A moment later.) I’d like to find out how many people voted. I don’t care who won.
Me: Wait a minute. You just said I should vote for Galatzan, right?
Me: So we should care, right?
Her: Right. We should care. But I don’t care.
Me: You just said we should care.
Her: You’re right, you’re right. I retract my last statement.
Just as I was about to wonder if this kind of absurdism is endemic to the school system, she confessed that she’d been driving all day and the glass of wine she just finished had gotten to her.
Monday, the day before the election, Galatzan turned up the heat on the propaganda, sending me more junk mail from one candidate in any election than I can ever remember. If I counted correctly, it was five different pieces. One pointed out that Lauritzen spent $95 million on a computer system that doesn’t work, and now he wants a pay raise. It showed a toilet with money either flowing out or stuffed in, I couldn’t tell which. Either way, it didn’t flatter the guy. Another mailer also trumpeted Lauritzen’s support for a pay raise for himself, this time with a picture of a guy in a boater and a bow tie, trying to resemble some old-time huckster politician. It didn’t make me think Jon Lauritzen was a huckster. It made me wonder how much a print model makes these days for putting on a boater and a bow tie and grinning at the camera.
In the same day’s mail, I got a letter from the city’s Police Command Officers Association. I’d never heard of it. I figured it was some organization hitting me up for a donation. Instead, it was a letter endorsing Tamar Galatzan. Six pieces in one day, and enough overall fill a throw pillow, but I couldn’t find my sample ballot.
I don’t recall getting much mail from Jon Lauritzen. In fact, I didn’t know much of anything about him, but in my mind, he had plenty going against him. He was on the board of a school district that has been on the slow track down the shitter for decades. I couldn’t find any evidence to dispute all the things Galatzan’s junk mail was accusing him of. Plus, as long as elected officials keep enjoying long rides on voter apathy, I’m going to keep going around voting against every incumbent I can find. And I saw Lauritzen in a television interview. He didn’t seem like a very engaging guy. Imagine Donald Sutherland on downers.
The nice thing about off-year elections is that it doesn’t take long to vote. There aren’t many races on the ballot, and voters have a tendency to take a powder. When I arrived at about 3:00 on Tuesday, it was about a dozen volunteers and me -- and I was still summoned to the wrong goddamn table to sign in.
For a city full of judgmental, opinionated people, we gave an amazingly small amount of shit about the election. While disappointing, this is no surprise. Our last mayoral election had only a 33% turnout. This election, which would determine the future of our extremely broken public education system -- not to mention some city council seats -- turned out a whopping 7% of the electorate. But the school board and city council shouldn’t take all the blame. There were also four community college board of trustees seats at stake that contributed to the voter apathy.
Galatzan finished first, garnering nearly 13,000 votes in district three. According to one news source, Mayor Villaraigosa’s campaign committee gave over a million dollars to help finance Galatzan’s junk mail blitz. This translates to a cost of roughly $90 for every vote she got. Let’s hope this isn’t a sign of her spending habits when she gets on the board.
But I am being premature. Since a third candidate prevented her from attaining a plurality, there is going to be a runoff election.
L.A. Nuts is a weekly look at the cast of characters that make up this city.