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Los Angeles Is Asleep at the Polls ~ Five Scary Truths We Learned After California’s Primary Election

12:47 PM PDT on June 6, 2018

    [dropcap size=big]A[/dropcap]n interesting thing happened in the results from Tuesday's primary election.

    The Republican John Cox, who will face off against Democrat Gavin Newsom in the November midterm race for governor of California, got within striking distance of Antonio Villaraigosa, the former mayor of Los Angeles, in Los Angeles County. Trump-endorsed Cox got 20.1 percent and Villaraigosa got 22.5 percent in L.A.

    Newsom, from San Francisco, beat them both in Los Angeles County by ten points more, which is overall a terrible result for Antonio, even allowing for an unfinished count with the provisional ballots after Tuesday's printing error.

    Villaraigosa — the first Latino mayor of L.A. in modern times and once hailed as a shining star in the Democratic establishment — could not win his home-base of Los Angeles. That is strong evidence of a deep repudiation of his legacy among his presumptive base. And a likely sign that Villaraigosa's electoral career is over.

    Here are a few more things that stand out for L.A. TACO.

    [dropcap size=big]T[/dropcap]Turn-out in California's midterm primary vote was as bad as in 2014, roughly 22 percent of registered voters went to the polls, according to the Secretary of State. That's bad. Bad because we're already a pretty f*ck-it-all electorate, where no one votes. (Not even in 2016 when the prevention of the Apocalypse was upon us, did Californians go vote — only less than half, about 47 percent of voters, showed up to reject Trump.)

    Voter turn-out was a dismal 18.5 percent in L.A. County. By comparison, 25 percent of voters turned out in Orange County, and 24 percent turned out in San Diego County.

    It's an embarrassment. We are the biggest county in California by far, the second largest city in the United States, and the third largest city in North America. We should be leaders at the polls, not laggers.

    A 21.8 percent statewide turn-out on Tuesday shows too many people are tuned out of the extremely high stakes to determine match-ups for the November ballot, when the future of Congress is up for grabs. Congressional Republicans are disciplined and determined to keep rolling back protections on the environment — this planet — and carrying out Trump's broader agenda. Forgive me for stating the obvious, but the GOP is largely obedient to corporate, oil, and weapons/war interests, usually at the expense of middle-class or working-class people. Read about it.

    That's why it's disappointing that those of us who are eligible are not participating — especially in Latino-majority Los Angeles. The undocumented people in our communities more than anything should spur us to vote always. It's in the interest of the general well-being of our communities overall, when you think about it.

    [dropcap size=big]S[/dropcap]upposedly Republicans were a dying notion in California: they sealed their fate with Proposition 187 and "They keep coming." California is a now mostly minority/people of color. Republicans have been gradually losing registered members, with voters identified as Independents now less than a percentage point shy of outnumbering Republicans in California, at 25 percent.

    Remember that the point of all this was California's role in the national effort to "flip the House" — take Democratic control of the second representative chamber in our government and possibly impeach Donald Trump (if Dems have the huevos to do it). Democrats got in the top-two in a variety of deeply red districts and that's fine. But in a chilling sign, the sole incumbent (meaning the person in the seat now) who was beaten in the primary vote was Pete Aguilar in the Inland Empire, a Democrat, by a relative handful of votes.

    It may be time to start thinking of potential Republican voters as silent republicons, people in our state who retain conservative or anti-Democratic Party views, but don't go around town talking about them all day. In March, the PPIC released a survey that showed the most important issue for likely voters in the state was immigration. Hmm.

    The reality remains that Californians widely support protecting immigrants — at least for now — but there's also a doublethink on the issue, with Californians also supporting deportations, according to a survey by the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley.

    Gavin Newsom arguing in support of same-sex marriage in 2003/Via Wiki Commons.
    Gavin Newsom arguing in support of same-sex marriage in 2003/Via Wiki Commons.

    [dropcap size=big]S[/dropcap]o much for echoes of the Bernie Sanders "revolution" from 2016. An avowed Democratic socialist who spent decades in government as a Independent and never takes special-interest money, Sanders finished in a remarkable third place in the race for the White House of the U.S.A. That to me was the biggest story of that campaign, because it signaled that a radically new way to make politics in America is possible — purely by the strength of ideas — and that attention to inequality and injustice can be a major generator of enthusiasm in campaigns.

    But if you were expecting an extension of that energy with a progressive rebellion in California, Tuesday was a disappointment. No Bernie-associated candidate in the major races had a big showing. (Granted, he also didn't throw his weight behind any campaign.) No, California is firmly a centristy state electorally, with no significant third-party challenge to the two-party system emerging in the 2018 season.

    Senator Dianne Feinstein's slap-down of Kevin de Leon on Tuesday was another clear signal. She beat him by more than 30 points. California is a bit like New York state in that way; too big, too rich, and arguably too entrenched in certain practices and trends to rock the boat much.

    Or is it?

    [dropcap size=big]J[/dropcap]ohn Cox beat Gavin Newsom pretty handily in Southern California on Tuesday, a ring of red around blue L.A. County. Cox won San Diego County, Orange County (by a lot), Ventura County, San Bernardino County, and Riverside County. That's troubling. These are all places that went fully for Hillary Clinton in 2016, less than two years ago.

    This is a huge red flag for Democrats.

    Voters of this state are always doing wild things. We elected the first actor to statewide office with Ronald Reagan. We passed the first marijuana decriminalizing laws back in the 1990s. We recalled a governor and replaced the officeholder Gray Davis with The Terminator, Arnold Schwarzenegger.

    Today, it's safe to say there is discontent in California amid all the rosy visions of life here. People are being priced out of their homes and neighborhoods. Gentrification wrought by real estate speculation and the world's new power center — the tech industry — are making "hip" neighborhoods uncomfortable for all. Can't you feel it?

    Immigration is another wild card. Cox seems willing to stoke the politics of fear and hate, opposing California's so-called "sanctuary state" policies that are meant to protect undocumented people from deportation. Immigrants do not commit more crime than citizens. Immigrants overwhelmingly contribute to economies. But in a world where facts are under threat, many voters are apparently willing to believe the opposites are true.

    Those are Trump and Cox voters.

    The reality check at the end of this is, Democrats outnumber Republicans and Independents in the state of California and Gavin Newsom is all but guaranteed victory in November, pretty much. But what if John Cox just touches that nerve? What if he's willing to spend lots of money in an attempt to generate an enthusiasm for "change"? What if he's willing to more radically exploit the politics of division and hate, which has been so fruitful so far for Donald Trump?

    We could have a Prop. 187 redux in California — if all goes wrong — and that's not good news for anyone.

    Photo via John Cox for Governor.
    California Republican gubernatorial candidate John Cox, right, speaks in Sacramento, Calif., Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2017, about his decision to spend "significant" money on an effort to repeal California's newly passed gas and diesel tax increase. Cox is joined by Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, at left. (AP Photo/Kathleen Ronayne)

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