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Valley Perspective | ELECTION '96 / PERSPECTIVE ON

Valley Doesn't Rock the Vote

Even measures such as Proposition 209 haven't breathed much life into local campaigns focused on narrow issues.

November 03, 1996|PAUL CLARKE | Paul Clarke of Northridge is a corporate political consultant

"Revolution today is taken for granted, and in consequence becomes rather dull." --Wyndham Lewis

For years, the Valley has been a hotbed of revolution and political activism. Now Valley voters are seemingly bored. They're focused on narrow issues.

Some officeholders are even retiring before their term limits are up. Can this be the radical part of Los Angeles? It was--yes and no--in 1978. And it is--yes and no--in 1996. All of this happened, and is happening, with exciting candidates, propositions and issues on the ballot designed to draw voters to the polls.

Following the 1994 elections, which led to major changes in the U.S. Congress and the California Legislature, pundits were repeatedly asked why none of these major changes were reflected in Valley legislative seats.

Why did we play so small a part in the revolution? A little perspective on the Valley's evolution versus revolution may show us why.

Think back to 1978--the year of Proposition 13 and the height of the anti-forced-busing movement in the San Fernando Valley. Do any of these names and events jog your memory: Lou Cusanovich, Jim Corman, Omer Rains, Alan Sieroty, Chuck Imbrecht, Bob Cline, Paul Priolo, Jim Keysor, Tom Bane, the confirmation of Rose Bird to the state Supreme Court? All except Cusanovich appeared on the November 1978 ballot. All are now gone from elective office, but none were defeated that year.

Retirements consumed some officeholders. Others were eventually defeated. Some ran for different offices and didn't make it. Bird's failure to be confirmed had to wait until 1986.

Compare them with the crop of candidates and issues appearing Tuesday: Paula Boland, Cathie Wright, Brad Sherman, Rich Sybert, James Rogan, Doug Kahn, Tom McClintock, John Lauritzen and many others. On the issues side, there is Proposition 209, to name just one.

Many of the candidates are on the ballot because the seats they seek have been left open by term limits. Other open seats offer incumbents a "free ride," so they will continue their terms in office. Still others will lose outright and have to wait for another election.

So what has happened politically to the Valley's landscape in the past 18 years? Has it grown more conservative or liberal?

Actually, it's stayed about the same. The pendulum in politics always seems to swing back and forth. In both 1978 and 1996, the pendulum appears to be about in the middle. Voters will probably end up voting for about as many Democrats as Republicans, despite two intervening reapportionments designed to make legislative races more competitive.

Will the results of the elections significantly change the way votes are cast in Sacramento and Washington? Probably not. There has always been a chauvinism of sorts that shows up in Valley legislators' votes, regardless of party label.

The dictionary defines chauvinism as a prejudiced belief in the superiority of one's own gender, group or kind. Witness our legislators' positions on the Los Angeles Unified School District breakup and the Valley's separation from the remainder of the city--Boland, Tom Hayden, Herschel Rosenthal and Wright all exhibited a Valley chauvinism that was welcomed by constituents.

Looking to the presidential election doesn't give much guidance. Clinton's 1992 win didn't provide much in the way of coattails to other candidates. The 1994 GOP "contract with America" didn't change any congressional seats. Even looking back to the '80s does not show us much.

The sound and fury of Bird's lack of confirmation in 1986 didn't carry over to other elections, even though Republicans tried their best to tie her stand against the death penalty to their Democrat opponents.

So it will probably fall to each individual race to generate its own excitement for voters. Thus far, they have failed to do so.

What then can one predict about Tuesday's outcome for the Valley? One of our old adversaries may have put the election in its best perspective:

"Revolutions are not made for export."

--Nikita Khrushchev

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