Politics takes center stage

An intimate side of politics was on full display Monday night as former state senator Sheila Kuehl hosted Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and current US Congressional candidate Karen Bass at Santa Monica's Broad Stage Theater. It was the inaugural gala of Santa Monica College's Public Policy Institute founded earlier this year by Kuehl. The conversation between the speakers covered a variety of topics ranging from local California politics to President Barack Obama, with the main focus placed on public policy. With over 400 in attendance, a majority of which were SMC students, dialogue quickly shifted to education. Early in the proceedings, Villaraigosa stated that he believed, "The issue of education is the civil rights issue of our time," and called education the biggest challenge to the economy.

Former Speaker Bass added that by the time she had left the speakership, California's budget had shrunk from 110 to 83 billion dollars with over $11 billion cut from K-12 education. Bass implied that a measure like Proposition 25, a ballot measure that would reduce voter threshold to a simple majority, would be a step in avoiding educational cuts. Currently, California runs on a supermajority vote of two-thirds, one of only two other states to do so and have only recently come to a budget compromise.

Other topics emphasized later in the night were crime, prisons, and the related legislation. Bass made the argument that voters participate in what she calls a "collective dysfunction" of California legislature. As an example, Bass points out how 12 new prisons had to be built because of the three strikes law and emotional decision making by the voting public.

Villaraigosa agreed that one person committing a crime, and deserving jail, is not reflective of the rationality needed when selecting legislature for the majority. He admitted that policy makers don't put enough resources in preventative measures.

"The cost of providing those services is dramatically smaller than the cost of incarcerating," said Villaraigosa. "You can be tough on crime as long as your tough on the root causes of crime too."

In regards to President Obama, both Villaraigosa and Bass were quick to point out the heat that the president has been receiving which they felt has been largely undeserved.

"We have memories of a nanosecond, we forget about where the economy was before he came into office," said Bass to the applause of many in the audience.

At one point in the night Villaraigosa addressed the prevailing cynicism and worsening perception the public has on government and news outlets.

Despite the procession's stern exterior, there were moments throughout the night that were very light-hearted. The speakers appeared comfortable with each other, and were often reminiscing about their shared pasts. Villaraigosa and Kuehl spoke about an assembly bill on breast feeding which drew continuous laughs from the audience.

The night finished with the guests advising the audience on civic participation. Both Bass and Villaraigosa accentuated the importance of media literacy when looking at initiatives and suggested exposing yourself to both sides of the argument.

Outside of the auditorium Franchesska Fortoul, 22, took the advice and dialogue to heart. Although she admits to being skeptical when the event began, the impression she was left with was mostly positive. "It's different when you see them in person, the people in public office are just like us," said Fortoul. "I found it to be very helpful."

Also announced Monday night was the news that the Public Policy Institute would establish an 18-unit certificate in civil engagement at SMC. Students will take 12 units in introduction to politics, introduction to public policy, communication, and engage scholarship as well as 6 units in arts and education, environment and sustainability, urban studies, or health.