Logan Smith, 25

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Logan Smith, 25, is running to be on the Santa Clarita City Council. We chatted with him about campaign finance reform, Santa Clarita’s arts funding, and his advice to all millennials who are considering a run for office.

Do you have music that gets you fired up before you go on the campaign trail?

I do, I have canvas and rally music. I listen to Flobots every time I have to go fire people up. They have a great song called “Rise” and a song called “Stand Up” that just gets me going.

Many people don’t vote in local elections because they don’t know what duties local government bodies are tasked with. In your words, what does city council do?

The Santa Clarita City Council ostensibly votes on city code amendments, ordinances, projects for the city, etc., and then pass that instruction on to the city manager and city staff to carry out. The reality is, in Santa Clarita we see an unelected hired city manager who says, “jump” and the council members say, “okay, how high.”

That to me is unconscionable because I think public servants should be serving the public, not donors or unelected bureaucrats.

What are the “potholes” in Santa Clarita? What are the smaller issues you feel are being too easily neglected but need to be addressed?

To me, no issue is too small. Something that is kind of in the weeds for people, but we as a city have been clashing over is a road extension. They want to extend Dockweiler Drive and connect it to another busy street. Yet, all the homeowners in the area where the road will connect don’t want this road extension. Coincidentally the road extension won’t be necessary for another 30-35 years. But it would require a purchase of land for over a million dollars that belongs to a council member. So, it’s a road that we don’t need, that we don’t want, but would make somebody really wealthy. And the city just hopes people will overlook it.

Something else that we deal with heavily but is considered a smaller issue is arts funding. There is this perception that Santa Clarita is this city of the arts. We have CalArts here, we have a vibrant film and television industry here, and there's this perception that the city promotes a real vibrant arts culture. And the city’s master plan calls for increased arts funding every year but when you look at our arts budget here in Santa Clarita, and you break it down, we spend 4 cents a resident on the arts every year.

Then when you look at a city like Pasadena which has a comparable budget when you adjust for the fact that they do their own utilities, they spent $1.11 per resident. And that’s vastly more than we’re spending in Santa Clarita. So, I don’t think the city can say with a straight face that we work to support the arts and support young artists when we’re actually decreasing arts spending and spending literally pennies per person every year.

You’re clearly dedicated to helping improve Santa Clarita. What are the aspects of your community that make you so loyal to it?

I was born in California, but as a kid I moved to Tennessee, to a town that was so racist that when we got an African American principal, parents protested. Then I live for four years in Oklahoma where there's no opportunity, especially if you’re raising a family as a single mother, there’s just not a lot of wealth. Meth use is on the rise, teen pregnancy is on the rise, jobs are leaving the state, and schools can’t stay open five days a week.

Frankly, I’ve been really fortunate to have grown up here, I spent the last 12 years of my life here, because it’s a city where opportunities do exist for some people. We have issues here, ones much bigger than the ones I’ve been able to touch on here. But I consider myself very fortunate to live in a city where we have these opportunities. It’s a place where, if we could get the housing situation under control, you could raise a family.

It’s a place that I'd like to raise a family and with millennials, I think a lot of us have downgraded from the dream of owning “the house with the white fence” to, “maybe I can afford a rent-controlled apartment.”

What is your response to all the commentary that labels millennials as ignorant of politics?

I think we have to look at where this commentary is coming from. We see it from a certain media class, not to disparage media, but especially from Internet headlines. It’s a perception that millennials are entitled young kids, but we have 38-year-old millennials now. Nobody in their right mind is going to point at a 38-year-old and say, you’re a kid.

I have friends who are doctors, I have friends who are in the military, I have friends who are becoming police officers. But I don't have friends my age who are elected officials and I don't understand why this field – I don’t want to say career path because I hate career politicians – but why this is the one area where millennials are just expected to not exist. We’re told to sit down and shut up and wait our turn. That’s fundamentally not okay, because if you removed the youngest city council member here, who is in his 40s, the other 4 members are in their 70s.

And that's not to say age has a bearing on your ability to govern, but our council members are not the ones that are going to have to cross Santa Monica Boulevard by boat. There's a series of problems that millennials as a generation did not create, they were born into. We need people who understand that lived experience of what it's like to grow up with the Iraq War and The Great Recession as your formative political moments.

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“…people go, “You're 25 and you want to go make policy, you want to go impact people's lives?” To which I say, I've already done it.”

When you've seen legislators, who were born the same year Hitler hosted the Olympics, making decisions that are going to affect us for the next half century, I don’t think that’s okay. I think we need young perspectives and young voices in here because we're the ones that should be guiding the policy that’s going to impact us in the next half century.  

What past experience do you think prepared you most for the campaign trail?

This is a question I like, because people go, “You're 25 and you want to go make policy, you want to go impact people's lives?” To which I say, I've already done it. I was the statewide Field Director for the California Clean Money Campaign in 2017. We passed AB 249, the California DISCLOSE Act, which is the strongest campaign disclosure law, not just in California, but in the country.

It’s something I'm incredibly proud of because I think 99% of the issues in politics and government boil down to the impact of dark money, special interests, corporate spending, and we struck a huge blow against that. Now when you see ballot measure advertisements in California, they have to show you the top three funders in the advertisement. So, instead of saying, paid for by Californians For Cheaper Taxes, which sounds great because nobody wants their taxes raised, we see it’s paid for by Merck, Pfizer, and Chevron, you know, the people who could probably afford to pay a little more tax to take the burden off the rest of us.

Before that, I worked for Christy Smith's Assembly Campaign in the 38th district, which was a great opportunity for me to get to know my community and to develop my own skills as an organizer. That's something I'm applying directly to my campaign now, because I think that when you have candidates that understand what it’s like to be boots on the ground, how to work in the movement, the campaign, I think that's something that translates. Between that and my experience in Sacramento, working with legislators on both sides of the aisle, it taught me a lot about building a consensus among multiple stakeholders with people that you otherwise would never see eye to eye with. And I think that especially beneficial at a city level because city issues are not explicitly partisan issues. We’re talking about road extensions, or arts funding or the three big issues here in Santa Clarita for me are green jobs, opioids, and homelessness. Jobs is not a partisan issue. Making sure seniors have housing is not a partisan issue. That experience working across the aisle I believe is going to serve me in city hall.

Who is your support network and how do you take care of yourself during a stressful campaign?

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People like to say, “my campaign.” I like to say, “our campaign.”

I have my friends who are not political, who I went to school with, grew up with, and those are people that I know after a long weekend in hot weather canvassing or at rallies are the people that I can go to and decompress. We like to play Rockband (if anybody remembers Rockband) with the guitars on the plastic drums, that's my self-care.

But I consider myself really fortunate to have the support of grassroots in my area, and friends who I can turn to and bring me down to earth, give me advice or bounce ideas off of. People like to say, “my campaign.” I like to say, “our campaign.” I don’t think that it's about the name on the ballot. It's about the people that have come together to help and make this happen. I am really fortunate that I've got people my age and people much younger, including high school students who have stepped up and done amazing work. To see people, especially people my age and younger, who have been inspired by the message we're pushing out keeps me going.

Ultimately those are the people that are going to be voting in 10, 15, 20 years from now. And if we can get more young people to engage now, then I think that’s an investment worth making.

What advice would you give to another young person considering a run for office?

Before deciding to run I was in Chicago at the People’s Summit, hosted by the National Nurses Union. Bernie Sanders was the final speaker of the night and he got up on stage and he had two pieces of advice. The first piece of advice is “Don’t hire a consultant.” And his second piece of advice is “Do it.”

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“The barrier that you face as a young person in politics is the probably easiest barrier to break through because you if can demonstrate that you're willing to do the work, if you can demonstrate that you know what you're talking about, you can earn that respect and voice that you need to get out there and get your message out there.”

I took that advice to heart and I said, “Okay, you know what, I’m going to do it.” So I guess if I had to boil my advice down I would say, if you're thinking about this and you’ve dipped your toes into the water of politics and organizing in your community, do it.

Every young person in politics knows this feeling, where you show up to an event, and you’re the only person there under 30. Then all the older folks come up to you, and they either physically or metaphorically do that thing where they pinch your cheek and say, “It’s so good to see young people involved in politics.”

And as long as you're willing to sit down and shut up, you're welcome there, and you can enjoy your free cheese plates and your boxed wine. But as soon as you start to have your own ideas you're going to experience pushback. To which I say, “Push through it, power through it.”

You know, I'm fortunate in that I was born a straight white male. I've never experienced hardship because of how I was born, I may experience hardship for being young but that pales in comparison to what friends of mine have experienced, and what people I don’t even know have experienced.

The barrier that you face as a young person in politics is the probably easiest barrier to break through because you if can demonstrate that you're willing to do the work, if you can demonstrate that you know what you're talking about, you can earn that respect and voice that you need to get out there and get your message out there.

The views expressed in this interview are those of the candidate, and do not reflect the beliefs and views of Ballot Breakers or its staff.

Lacy Wright