The Hundred Years War, L.A.-Style
Do you mean to tell me that in the time that I've been
away, the pope dies and is laid to rest, the Dodgers win
their home opener, Jane Fonda comes clean, the FDA yanks
another as-seen-on-TV Rx off the market, Prince Charles
finally marries the right girl â€" and the L.A.
mayor's race is still not over?
Last week, British Prime Minister Tony Blair drove to
Buckingham Palace and asked Queen Elizabeth to prorogue
Parliament. I love that word, "prorogue." It means to end a
session of Parliament, in this case to clear the decks for
an election. Our word for ending a session of Congress is
"adjournment," which means "to step up the
So Blair rolls out of the palace gates and, just like that,
an election is on â€" for May 5. A nationwide
election for Britain's top job â€" called,
conducted and counted â€" all in a month's
time. You'll never hear another snotty word from me
about British efficiency.
As for this time zone: Do you happen to remember when the
deadline was for Jim Hahn and Antonio Villaraigosa and the
rest to file their paperwork to run for mayor? Dec. 8
â€" last year! And do you know the date of the
mayoral runoff election? May 17! The entire United Kingdom
takes one month to decide whether to keep its incumbent
leader, and the city of Los Angeles can't manage to do the
same in five.
A monthlong election shouldn't be time enough for the prime
minister to pronounce his full name â€" Anthony
Charles Lynton Blair â€" but the Brits are
already going at it hammer and tong about the Iraq war,
street crime, immigration, trade â€" without
getting sidetracked by irrelevancies like one candidate's
35-year-old war record.
The longer our campaigns go on, the less gets said. We
don't get cut-and-thrust debate, we get cut-and-dried
sloganeering: "Compassionate conservative." "Potholes fixed
in 24 hours." And this from guys who begin running for an
office years before it's even vacant: George W. Bush
started running for president the day he was sworn in for a
second term as governor of Texas. Hahn began running for
mayor when he was about 12 years old.
It isn't cheap, our state of perpetual campaigning.
Britain's 2001 national election cost $1.65 per eligible
voter. Our 2000 equivalent: $13.50 per. Arnold
Schwarzenegger, who's been rattling his collection plate
from gold coast to gold coast, is closing in on scaring up
$150 million â€" and scaring is the word
â€" from his fellow millionaires to mount a
November special election on his pet initiatives.
If we wanted to make campaigns and elections rational
â€" and I'd just settle for tolerable
â€" there are some things we could do:
â€¢ Copy Arizona. It
shames me to say this, but the state that once banned the
Martin Luther King Jr. holiday is now way ahead of
cutting-edge California. It has public campaign financing
to die for. Arizona tacks 10% onto every civil and criminal
fine â€" from speeding tickets to felonies
â€" simultaneously sticking it to lawbreakers
and to incumbent lawmakers as it raises money to allow
just-folks to run for office and win. We have voted for
some version of campaign finance reform 12 times in a dozen
years, but each time politicians have managed to water the
reform down like cheap beer.
â€¢ Shorten campaigns.
My apologies to political consultants and to their mortgage
companies, but one reason campaigns go on so bloody long is
to raise money for â€¦ long campaigns.
The only people paying attention early on are the lobbyists
and donors rooting to get their guy in office. Voters don't
perk up until the homestretch. The shorter the election,
the lower the cost of the campaign and the less time and
reason for special interest high-rollers to spend their
â€¢ Demand more TV campaign
coverage. In a survey of 122 stations in the
nation's top 50 media markets, a majority of the top-rated
stations ran no campaign stories â€"
nada â€" in the seven weeks before the
2002 elections. That's no way to inform the public
â€" and the FCC should do something about
â€¢ Hold fewer
elections. Californians have been trudging off to
punch chads or ink-a-vote so often lately it feels like a
budget tour of Europe â€" if it's Tuesday, this
must be the mayoral primary. Or is it the recall?
Schwarzenegger's autumn special election would make the
sixth statewide election in three years. I don't balance my
checkbook that often.
He didn't have short election cycles in mind when he said
it, but a very quotable Briton named Samuel Johnson once
remarked: "When a man knows he is to be hanged in a
fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully." Elections
and hangings share more than a deadline â€" the
longer they go on, the more painful they are.
See the article on Los Angeles Times website