As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Saturday, March 03, 2007

The Most Important California Election of 2007

I've been a little lax in talking about Tuesday's elections in Los Angeles, maybe because I technically don't live in Los Angeles and will not be voting. Nevertheless, it's actually critically important for the future of the state.

Richard Alarcon is running for LA City Council, his 35th office of the year, and he's likely to take it. But the intrigue surrounds the LAUSD school board elections, where Mayor Villaraigosa is essentially taking on UTLA in a battle that may go a long way to determining the future of California.

And I'm fairly serious about that.

This LA Times piece has the details. Essentially there are two races worth watching on Tuesday, where Villaraigosa-backed candidates are matching up against UTLA-backed incumbents. The winner will gain control of the school board, which Villaraigosa would like to push through his power-sharing arrangement to give the mayor most of the power and accountability for the LAUSD.

First, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa pushed to take over the Los Angeles Unified School District outright. Then, he crafted a bid for power-sharing. Now, he's trying to get his way by proxy — by winning a school board majority Tuesday that, at last, would give him a powerful voice in the direction of local school reform.

But this is no sure thing either.

Standing in the way is United Teachers Los Angeles, the erstwhile ally of the mayor. The union backs two incumbents whose reelection would preserve the board majority that has thwarted Villaraigosa repeatedly.

In all, four of seven board seats are up for grabs. With one ally on the board already, the mayor needs three wins to secure a friendly majority. (The mayor is virtually assured of picking up two seats -ed.)

In the west San Fernando Valley's District 3, Villaraigosa backs prosecutor Tamar Galatzan against UTLA-favored Jon M. Lauritzen. In District 1 in South Los Angeles, the union favors Marguerite Poindexter LaMotte against charter school operator Johnathan Williams, whom the mayor tacitly supports.

Total spending in the two campaigns is likely to surpass $3 million.

It's not for nothing that this is a big-money set of races. If the 2010 governor's race were held today, Villaraigosa would have to be seen as the front-runner. A loss to the teacher's union would be a blow to his credibility and his ability to push forward his agenda. The mayor has expended a tremendous amount of political capital on taking control of the schools. If he cannot he will have trouble putting together a record of accomplishment, particularly with such challenges as increases in gang violence and an increased homeless problem happening on his watch).

All you need to know is that the LA Area Chamber of Commerce is supporting Villaraigosa's slate, and his favored candidate in District 1 (he hasn't come out and endorsed him) is a guy who built charter schools in South LA. Also on Villaraigosa's side are former Republican Mayor Richard Riordan and billionaires Steven Bing, Jeffrey Katzenberg and Eli Broad, among others. On the side of the incumbents are UTLA, SEIU Local 99, the local Teamsters and others.

Tuesday should very interesting. Stay tuned.

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