Commentary

03/04/2014  by Ed Coghlan

California Secretary of State candidates mix it up for the first time


The SoS candidates just prior to the debate (photo: Christopher Nelson/CA Fwd)

Fact: the most interesting race on this year’s state ballot is for California Secretary of State.

It is both hotly contested and full of issues that California Forward and other good government organizations believe are very important. The winner and successor to currently termed-out Secretary of State Debra Bowen will be faced with modernizing state voter records, embracing and adopting technology to improve transparency on who is spending what to influence elections, and reversing the state’s troublingly low voter registration and turnout.

On that last issue (California’s voter participation statistic ranks a horrible 45th out of 50 states), click here to see what the six candidates told California Forward they would do to increase voter participation in the state.

On Monday night in Los Angeles the candidates all gathered to share ideas before a robust crowd, many of whom were election officials and activists from around the state who had spent the day at the Future of California Elections  (FoCE) meeting in downtown Los Angeles at the California Endowment talking about how the state can (and must) increase its voter participation. More on that in a moment.

Regarding the Candidate Forum, there are a couple of pretty good print stories, one by Jean Merl of the L.A. Times and another by Jim Miller of the Sacramento Bee that summarize where each of the candidates stood. Good for them for covering the event.  Joel Fox of Fox & Hounds Daily also attended  and filed this summary online Monday night.  

What was disappointing was the lack of television news coverage of the event.  Not one English language TV station news department in Los Angeles showed up to cover it. Much was made at the conference and forum as to how public education is one key to improving civic engagement. Clearly that  is not something TV stations should be counted on to provide (and I say this as a card carrying former TV news director in Los Angeles). The forum was moderated by Telemundo52 journalist Azalea Iniguez who organizers felt did a great job of keeping the event moving along at a good pace. Not coincidentally, her employer sent a cameraman to the event.  

The six candidates are Derek Cressman, David Curtis, Alex Padilla, Pete Peterson, Dan Schnur, and Leland Yee—all bright men with some interesting ideas about what they would do with the state’s top elections office. The top two finishers in the June primary will face off in November.

The American Civil Liberties Union, the League of Women’s Voters and the California Endowment (where the debate was held) were co-sponsors of the event, as was California Forward.

“We were pleased to be a co-sponsor of this forum,” said Caroline Vance Bruister, Project Director for California Forward’s Project for Public Accountability which promotes technology-enhanced transparency, increased voter participation and an efficient and accountable government.

“This is an important race for those of us who believe that improving voter participation is one of the catalysts for positive change in the state,” she added.

Three more of these forums (or “fora” as my Latin teachers would properly remind me) are scheduled around the state before November.

California Forward is also part of FoCE. Monday’s meeting attracted serious, hardworking people from across the state and the nation to talk about California elections. While there was optimism in the room and lots of ideas—from extending the amount of time people can vote, to improve voting technology to teaching government and civics in the schools—the task to improve voter participation will be challenging. You will be seeing some interviews from FoCE participants on this site in the coming weeks.

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