California Disconnect: Don’t Get Out the Vote for Congress, State Legislature


Have you heard about the current election season in Los Angeles?

Sure, we’ve all gotten word about the presidential campaign. But how much have you heard about races for the U.S. Congress or State Legislature?

The member of the U.S. House of Representatives who represents my neighborhood is up for re-election, along with his 434 colleagues. So is the fellow who represents me in the California State Assembly—and his 79 colleagues.

I haven’t heard a peep from either one of them – no automated phone calls, signs, brochures, or door knockers. I’ll bet most of you could say the same for your representatives.

There are a couple of reasons for all of this quiet, and the first is that elected officials don’t want to campaign.

The U.S. Congress is just as unpopular as President George W. Bush. They’ve earned the low esteem, too, because many members of both major parties have been asleep at the switch these last eight years, dozing off while our nation continued to conduct warfare abroad and inflate a housing bubble at home, putting both ends of the deal on credit.

Members of the State Legislature just did some foot stomping with the governor that caused their annual budget to be a couple of months late—a case of tardiness that has and will cost us all plenty.

The second – and more discomforting – reason for the quiet campaign season is that an overwhelming number of the elected officials who represent Los Angeles in Washington and Sacramento don’t need to run hard. They have “safe seats,” with boundaries for their districts carved up to give them a lock at the polls.

There’s also a measure on the November 4 ballot that claims to fix the process of drawing up boundaries for state offices in California. Rest assured that politicians have a hand in the deal, so don’t expect much.

Where does that leave unhappy voters?

It seems clear that there only a couple of ways to deal with a political system that’s in such shape. The first is for everyday folks to get together and start looking for individuals they know and trust as possible candidates for various offices. Forget about political experience—all the experience in Washington and Sacramento hasn’t done us much good. Just look for bright men and women whom you know to be honorable. Tell them you want them to run for office. Then help them make the race.

Of course it’s too late to take such steps in this election, which leaves the matter of how to make the current crop of elected officials feel your displeasure.

Voters could make a powerful statement by withholding their votes for members of Congress and the State Legislature. This is not suggested lightly, and it’s not to say that anyone should skip the presidential election, which is simply too important to sit out.

It’s also understood that this will hit the few legislators who have actually been working in the best interests of their constituents lately. That’s a tough break, but it’s become clear that mass punishment of the legislative class is the only way to convince them of what poor use they’ve made of our hallowed institutions. Voters must let them all know that we know the game is rigged.

The legislative class might get the point if its members see large numbers of us vote in the presidential election but find no reason to cast a ballot for other offices. They’ll win their rigged game, but victory will come with a warning. Maybe they’ll figure out that we’re tired of safe seats choking off any hope for vibrant campaigns where ideas matter.

Again, this is nothing to take lightly. The right to vote is sacred. Yet the very same right is abused by the current system.

So it’s true that your vote is your voice.

Yet it’s also true that silence can sometimes speak volumes.

Jerry Sullivan is the Editor & Publisher of the Los Angeles Garment & Citizen, a weekly community newspaper that covers Downtown Los Angeles and surrounding districts