Most Diverse Region? Political Leadership Doesn’t Reflect L.A.’s Reality

Ethnic minorities continue to make political gains in Los Angeles County, but still lag behind the population, according to a new report from the Thomas and Dorothy Leavey Center for the Study of Los Angeles at Loyola Marymount University.

The report, titled The Politics of Inclusion, shows that while the picture of political diversity has grown more complex along with the region’s increasingly polyglot population, whites and African-Americans remain overrepresented among the top political leaders, while Latinos and Asian-Americans have fewer representatives than their share of the population.

“Part of what we see here is expected: when elections only happen every two or four years, and incumbents have the advantage, there’s a lag between population changes and the makeup of the political establishment,” said Professor Fernando Guerra, director of the Center.

The report is an annual update of the Center’s previous work recording the ethnic and gender makeup of the top 100 elected positions in Los Angeles county going back to 1960. The goal of the project is to document the changing political landscape and how it corresponds to the demographic shifts in the county.

Guerra cautioned against viewing the data as a test of how far the region has to go to achieve an imagined parity.

“If the political picture somehow became a mirror reflection of the people at large, that would only last until the next year, as population shifts continue,” Guerra said.

The report also shows that despite steady progress from the 1970s to the mid-2000s, gender equality has worsened. Women represent half of the population but hold just 28 of the county’s top 100 positions.

The full report was released at a panel discussion last night at Loyola Marymount University, which featured Los Angeles City Councilman Jose Huizar, LACCD Trustee Mike Eng, and former state Assemblyman Steve Bradford. Bradford said the success of African-Americans in politics is a legacy of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s and 1970s.

“I think we’ve broadened our prism of how we view elected officials,” said Bradford, now a senior fellow at the Center. “In many times, we think we can only get elected in quote-unquote black districts, but I think if you run the right campaign, you realize you can relate – if your message is right – to all voters.”

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