A standing room only crowd was on hand for a town hall meeting at the Loyola Village Library in Westchester to welcome state Senator Jenny Oropeza and Secretary of State Debra Bowen on January 30th.

After being introduced by City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, Oropeza and Bowen took questions from the audience on a variety of topics that included local concerns involving elections and the ramifications of the state budget crisis and its effect on local communities.

Bowen, a Democrat, became the sixth woman in California history to be elected to a statewide office when she defeated Bruce McPherson in a close election in 2006.

Oropeza represents communities such as Playa del Rey, Marina del Rey and Venice.

A former Assembly member and state senator who represented Marina del Rey and Playa del Rey, Bowen discussed how the state was working to improve elections and talked about how local, county and state elections work.

“It’s an incredible system that we have — democracy,” Bowen told the audience. “It’s a valuable thing.”

Karen Kanter, a Playa del Rey resident, queried Bowen about an election that occurred last month at Westchester High School. A governance model for the high school put forth by an alliance of parents and students was chosen, despite the fact that the proposal that Kanter backed received more votes.

Due to the disparity in the number of the teachers at the school and members of Westchester community, the transition team decided on what was called a weighted vote. A vote for the teacher-parent sponsored measure counted 50 percent of the final tally, parents’ votes 31 percent, and community and business ballots counted for 19.

“We had a situation with the local school governance vote where the community had 733 people who voted one way and 84 teachers voted another way, and it was weighted completely in the direction of the teachers,” Kanter asserted.

Bowen was unable to answer the question directly because she was not familiar with the election, but told Kanter that in order for an election to have taken place, certain rules must have been in place prior to the vote.

Oropeza fielded questions about the state budget, which is currently more than $42 billion in the red and threatens to further jeopardize county and municipal budgets.

The senator, who has been an outspoken advocate for abolishing California’s law that states that a two-thirds vote is required to pass a budget in the Legislature, suggested that residents who agree with her collect signatures to place an initiative on the ballot in 2010.

“The second way is through the Legislature,” she said. “You must let us know how you feel.”

The secretary of state and the senator remained at the library afterwards to meet their constituents and answer questions they had regarding the budget or the elections.

Oropeza told The Argonaut a few days after the town hall that she was grateful that so many of her constituents participated in the open forum.

“It was a terrific turnout,” the senator said. “It was the best that we’ve ever had at our town hall meetings.

“I was really pleased to take part in the town hall and I think that Secretary Bowen provided some very important information.”

Oropeza said that she looked forward to the next time she could meet more residents of her district in person.

“It’s always great to have an opportunity to talk to my constituents face-to-face and to learn some of the issues that concern them,” Oropeza concluded.