With Election Day just more than a month away, the presidential and congressional races have been thrust into the spotlight. The local San Luis Obispo mayoral race hasn’t garnered as much attention, however.
Who’s in the race?
This year’s race is between incumbent San Luis Obispo Mayor Jan Marx, and political newcomers Steve Barasch — a local architect — and Donald Hedrick — who also ran for mayor in 2010. Hedrick finished fourth, receiving just 3.28 percent of the total vote. Neither Barasch nor Hedrick were available for comment as of press time.
Though there are two candidates running against her, Marx said she sees herself as the frontrunner due to her experience.
“I’m clearly the most qualified in terms of experience on the City Council,” Marx said.
In 2010, Marx won by a narrow margin of 204 votes more than candidate Paul Brown, acquiring 43.37 percent of the vote. This year, Marx has been endorsed by Cal Poly political science professor Allen Settle, who is also a former San Luis Obispo mayor and City Council member. Current and former councilmembers have offered Marx endorsements as well.
What about the student vote?
Attack advertisements featuring President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, as well as Congresswoman Lois Capps and Abel Maldonado, continue to flood commercial airtime in San Luis Obispo, while only a few signs can be seen on local resident’s lawns to advertise the mayoral race. Yet there is even less promotion on the Cal Poly campus — raising the question as to whether the candidates are interested in the student vote.
Apathy amongst young voters is one of the more glaring reasons for the lack of on campus promotion, Settle said.
“The perception is that if students don’t participate in the voting process, then the candidates won’t bother to campaign on campus,” Settle said.
And that perception isn’t very far off base: In 2010, only 589 of the 1830 eligible voters in Cal Poly’s precinct cast votes, according to the San Luis Obispo County Clerk-Recorder office. This accounts for approximately 3.3 percent of the Cal Poly population.
And Marx is well aware of the students’ lack of interest in the local elections.
“There have been debates on campus in the past, but students in general haven’t attended a lot of them,” Marx said.
Another issue regarding Cal Poly students voting is the Cal Poly campus is not technically a part of the city of San Luis Obispo, therefore students living on campus cannot vote in the mayoral election unless they are registered in the county.
Though Marx’s stance on the student vote is clear, Settle — who was mayor for four terms — said when he ran, he still liked to reach out to student voters, mostly by seeking an endorsement from student governing bodies or Mustang Daily.
Associated Students, Inc. (ASI) Chief of Staff Katie Brennan said they were not likely to back one candidate over another this year.
“We are the representatives of the student body,” Brennan said. “We never want to take a stance on something, since the students have the opportunity to voice that opinion on their own.”
And how does Proposition 30 fit in?
Among other issues which tend to foster student voter apathy, Settle said there is also a slight disconnect between this year’s candidates and the students, which was evident when he brought up Proposition 30 at a City Council meeting. The proposition, which would raise the state sales and income taxes to help fund education in California, was not widely understood, he said.
“I mentioned Proposition 30 to the candidates at the recent City Council meeting, and all three weren’t aware of the specifics of the measure, which is perplexing considering it directly affects students,” he said.
Some students, such as business administration junior Kevin Wright, say they have an idea as to why there is a detachment from the local community.
Wright said the divide is due to students seeing themselves as temporary residents of San Luis Obispo, and not full-time members of the community.
“I think the students are more of a transient population, so they don’t really have a vested interest in the community,” Wright said.