The six candidates for California secretary of state will participate in the first of a series of four forums tonight in downtown Los Angeles.
The forum is being organized by the ACLU of Southern California, the League of Women Voters California and The California Endowment. It will be streamed live from 7-8:30 p.m. on Time Warner Cable's LA-36 and rebroadcast later.
"This is a critical time for a critical office," said Vivien Hao, a representative of the organizers, citing such issues as "vote-by-mail undercount, minority disenfranchisement and non-compliance with the National Voter Registration Act."
Each candidate will make a 90-second opening statement, field questions from moderator Azalea Iniguez, an anchor at Spanish-language KVEA-TV Channel 52, and make two-minute closing statements.
Candidate Dan Schnur called the forum "a conversation about how to put Californians back in charge of their politics and their government."
"Anyone who is frustrated that the political system is not working the way it should has a very strong incentive to tune in," Schnur told City News Service.
"Most Californians would agree that the government and the politics has been hijacked by special interests in both parties. This needs to be a conversation about how to rein in an out-of-control political fundraising arms race so Californians can have their voices heard."
Among the changes Schnur has proposed are banning political fundraising while the Legislature is in session and making secretary of state a nonpartisan office.
"The state's chief elections officer shouldn't be beholden to either political party in order to ensure fair and even-handed elections," said Schnur, a former chairman of the Fair Political Practices Commission.
Schnur will not have a party preference listed on the June 3 primary ballot. He switched his registration from Republican to no party preference almost three years ago.
Republican Pete Peterson, the director of Pepperdine University's Davenport Institute for Public Engagement, said he will use the forum to call for the Secretary of State's Office to play "a much stronger role in engaging California businesses" in its role as the chief registrar of businesses and nonprofit organizations.
Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Pacoima, called the forum a "prime opportunity" for voters to be informed about the office and the candidates seeking to succeed Debra Bowen, who is barred from running for re-election by term limits.
Padilla said he has received many questions while campaigning "about what the Secretary of State's Office really does."
"Most people think of elections and election administration, but clearly there's a lot more important responsibilities in that office," said Padilla, citing its roles as the chief registrar of businesses and nonprofit organizations and receiving reports from campaigns about their fundraising and expenditures.
Padilla said if elected he would make it easier for businesses to file required documents and support faster disclosure of political donations.
Candidate David S. Curtis of the Green Party said he is "hoping to show that a Green can hold his own with the corporate-sponsored candidates and how an elected Green would approach the office differently from them."
Curtis said that with candidates other than Democrats and Republicans "routinely excluded from similar events," the invitation he received to participate was "a welcome step towards a more democratic process."
Like Schnur, Curtis said he supports secretary of state becoming a nonpartisan office.
Additional forums will be held in San Diego, the Inland Empire and San Francisco on dates to be determined, Hao said.
"Debates are a far better way for voters to evaluate candidates than TV ads, sound bites in the media or junk mailers," said Democratic candidate Derek Cressman, a former vice president of Common Cause, which describes itself as "a nonpartisan, grassroots organization dedicated to restore the core values of American democracy."
Cressman, who called himself as a strong supporter of public financing of campaigns, said he hopes the other candidates will explain their positions on the issue tonight.
There was no response to a request for comment from the sixth candidate in the race, Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco.
—City News Service