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Incumbent protection 101

Signed into law this week, AB 2572 protects entrenched members of L.A.'s Community College District Board of Trustees.

October 04, 2012
  • Gov. Jerry Brown signed AB 2572 on Sept. 29. Above: Gov. Brown looks on during a news conference at Google headquarters on Sept. 25 in Mountain View, Calif.
Gov. Jerry Brown signed AB 2572 on Sept. 29. Above: Gov. Brown looks on during… (Justin Sullivan / Getty…)

The politicians who oversee the Los Angeles community colleges just won a large measure of protection from voters and other inconveniences of democracy thanks to a bad bill that on Saturday became a bad law.

Gov. Jerry Brown signed AB 2572, a bill deceptively modest in its language but astonishing in its audacity. It's a kind of incumbent protection plan for entrenched members of L.A.'s Community College District Board of Trustees, and it comes to their rescue in the wake of last year's revelations of massive waste and corruption in district construction programs — and just as voters may be ready to focus on the ineptitude of the elected trustees who oversaw it.

Under the new law, runoff elections are swept away, supposedly to save money, and an incumbent can now keep his or her seat (and yes, a challenger can now get elected) in the first and only round of voting with less than majority support. A sitting board member — like, say, Angela Reddock in the 2009 election — could be outpolled by four challengers and still stay in office even if a majority of voters opposed her. She would never have to go head to head with a viable candidate in a runoff.

But there were still runoffs in 2009, and Reddock did have to face a challenger — Tina Park, who promised better oversight and financial scrutiny. It was a message that may have resonated with voters, even before the construction scandal. Park had won only 19.8% of the vote in the five-way primary to Reddock's 47%, but in the one-on-one runoff, Park prevailed and she, rather than Reddock, now sits on the board.

The new law could theoretically help an upstart challenger, but in practice, given the enormous fundraising and other advantages enjoyed by incumbents, it is a huge gift to board members defending their seats, as well as to their financial and political backers: teacher unions, construction unions, contractors and anyone else with a stake in the status quo.

Park is up for reelection, as are multi-term trustees Kelly Candaele and Nancy Pearlman. If they are challenged by multiple candidates, as Reddock was, they and their political backers will have a much easier time of it than they would have without this new law.

There is one last chance to turn back this special favor to entrenched incumbents and their supporters. The law merely authorizes trustees to eliminate the runoff; they could still refuse. And they should, even though doing so might appear contrary to their immediate political interests. If they don't, they should be prepared to explain in March why voters should not oust them for this brazen flouting of democracy.

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