August 16, 2003

With Cruz Bustamante now the front-runner, according to the most reliable poll out there, the possibility that California will elect a more liberal politician to replace Gray Davis becomes a less-remote possibility (Ed.-it didn't happen). Of greater interest to the media will no doubt be the ethnic background of the lieutenant governor: if elected, Bustamante will be Calfornia's first Latino chief executive since pre-statehood.

How an obscure, hitherto undistinguished politician with a background that can justly be called questionable (in his youth, he belonged to a Mexican nationalist group comparable to the Black Panthers, and as recently as two years ago, he let slip the n-word during a speech) can suddenly be ahead of one of the most popular, well-known figures on the planet reflects one of the key political trends in the country, the rise of the Latino as a pivotal voting bloc in Sun Belt politics.

The story of California politics in the past decade has been about the aftermath of Proposition 187, the anti-illegal immigrant referendum which passed with almost 60% of the vote in 1994, carrying the G.O.P. to its strongest state-wide performance in a generation, even enabling the party to control one house of the state legislature for a term. Bustamante's lead is merely the latest sign of a trend that emerged after that election, in which the Democratic Party achieved a dominance hitherto unseen since the end of the Nineteenth Century, at the same time as the Republican Party controlled the national government.

Between 1898 and 1992, California was the largest state in the Union to consistently go Republican, both in Presidential elections and in the governor's mansion. No Republican won the Presidency without carrying California, while several Democrats (Wilson, JFK, and Carter) won office without winning the state. Before Gray Davis, only three Democrats (Culbert Olsen, for one term during the Depression, and the Browns, Pat and Jerry) were elected Governor during the 20th century. From 1950 to 1992, only three Democrats won Senate elections, and two of those served only one term. Besides LBJ, no Democratic presidiential nominee carried the state during that period.

The California Republican Party produced, among others, Hiram Johnson, Earl Warren, Richard Nixon, William K. Knowland, Ronald Reagan, George Deukmejian, and Pete Wilson, all of whom were national figures who either became President or were touted for the Presidency. During that same period, besides the Browns, California Democrats produced men who were either famous for being effective legislators and mayors, such as Jesse Unruh, the Burtons, George Moscone, Alan Cranston, Tom Bradley and Willie Brown, or politicians famous for having lost (ie. William McAdoo, Upton Sinclair, Jerry Voorhies, Helen Douglas, etc.). With the exception of McAdoo (infamous for having run as the candidate of the KKK for the 1924 Democratic nomination), Cranston, and Jerry Brown, none of them were considered Presidential material, and Cranston and Brown both bombed when they pursued their national aspirations. When Pete Wilson edged Diane Feinstein in the 1990 governor's election, and then routed Kathleen Brown in 1994, it was a continuation of a trend that existed for almost a century, of Republicans beating Democrats for statewide office.

Everything changed in the '94 election. Struggling to overcome a shaky economy, and, like President Bush, having to justify a tax increase he signed into law, Governor Wilson decided to exploit the political shockwaves that emerged from the popular meme of that year, the "angry white male". Anti-immigrant feelings had been stoked by politicians in California for generations; one of the more infamous "newsreels" used in the campaign against EPIC and Upton Sinclair in 1934 showed wave upon wave of Okies entering the state, intent on electing Sinclair to impose his new-fangled Russian-tested ideas about collectivism and the like. Seizing upon the issue of "illegal aliens", Wilson and the Republicans pushed Proposition 187, an initiative that promised to restrict all government benefits to those not legally in the country, from medical services to education. And so, the vivid memory voters of this state have of that election is a campaign commercial showing people sneaking accross the border, with a narrator remind us, "they keep coming...."

According to the LA Times, only 8% of the electorate in 1994 was of Latino ancestry, and those voters tended to split their votes between the parties, with Democrats receiving only a marginal edge. The Republicans won all but two statewide offices, most by large margins, captured the State Assembly for the first time in over 25 years, gained parity in Congressional races, and nearly pulled off a stunning upset in the Senate, where Diane Feinstein barely scraped by to defeat one of the weakest candidates in memory, Michael Huffington (helped, in large part, by the late revelation that the Huffingtons had employed an undocumented nanny for their children). Republican dominance in California seemed assured for the next generation.

And then, suddenly, it ended. Over the next few years, angry over the unsubtle subtext of anti-Latino bigotry behind Prop. 187, Latino voting registration shot up. In 1992, Bill Clinton had focused on California, making it the key swing state in his bid to defeat George Bush, and had visited the state frequently enough in his first term to make it seem like a second home. By 1996, the polls showed that he had such a large lead that he didn't even bother to campaign here against Bob Dole. For the first time in a generation, a Democrat was elected to Congress from the heart of Reagan Country, Orange County. A Latina. The Democrats retook control of the state legislature.

By 1998, the percentage of the Latino vote in California had nearly doubled from where it had been four years earlier, and the Democrats captured all but two statewide offices. Barbara Boxer, one of the most liberal politicians ever elected to the U.S. Senate, who had barely beaten a weak opponent in the year of Clinton's first election, easily beat back a moderate Republican opponent. Two years later, Diane Feinstein repeated the trick.

In 2000, George Bush, en route to his Supreme Court selection, vigorously contested California, while Al Gore ignored the state. It didn't matter. Gore won the state by 13 points, helping him carry the popular vote nationwide. The Latino share of the vote stayed at 13%, which meant that even more were voting in a higher-turnout election.

Which, of course, brings us to 2002, and to the GOP's 2003 Mulligan. For the first time in a century, the Democrats were able to sweep the statewide offices. They control both houses of the state legislature by large margins, and have almost a 2-1 edge in Congressional seats, a margin that was almost certainly self-limited by the need to play it safe during redistricting by preserving the seat formerly held by Gary Condit. Loretta Sanchez, the Latina Democrat who won in Orange County back in 1996, besting "B-1 Bob" Dornan, has had no problem winning reelection since then; Orange County, far from being a Republican stronghold, is now in play. And they did it with an electorate that was apathetic, that viewed the top of the ticket with undisguised contempt, in a big year for Republicans everywhere else.

Before the release of the Field Poll yesterday, it had become trendy to disparage the notion of Latino voters being a significant voting bloc in California. Why, as one blogger noted, their total voting share in the last election was only 10%, which is only 25% higher than it was in 1994. Keeping in mind the old saw about how correlation is not causation, let me point out that the Democratic Party was not sweeping statewide offices before Prop. 187, and its recent success is probably not a result of soccer moms. In fact, the decline in Latino turnout from 1998 to 2002 is a moderate one, especially when compared with the black turnout, which went from 13% to 4% in the last election.

Bill Simon aside, the Republicans who are getting trounced, the Matt Fongs, the William Campbells, are not fire-breathing extremists. Dan Lungren, who was beaten badly by Gray Davis in 1998, had previously won reelection to the second most powerful position in the state, Attorney General, which is usually a stepping-stone to the governor's mansion. In other states, men like that win.

But not California. And now, it is apparently Ahnolt's turn to confront those trends. The only issue that we know A.S. has taken a stand on is Prop. 187; he's for it. Already, he has become the recipient of flack because of his ties to Warren Buffet, who just yesterday called for the revision of Proposition 13, the initiative passed in 1978 to limit increases in property taxes. To many conservatives, it is tantamount to a Democratic Presidential candidate calling for a reexamination of the legal reasoning behind Roe v. Wade. But A.S. may find that he needs the support of an electorate frustrated by politics-as-usual, annoyed that certain issues can't be discussed because of political correctness, whether it be from the right or the left (among those denouncing Buffet's remarks yesterday was one Gray Davis, indicating that his opportunism shows no bounds).

It is still early enough in the campaign to question the reliability of polls. Even to a partisan liberal Democrat like myself, I was surprised Cruz was leading, and it wouldn't shock me if other polls showed S'w'n'gg'r in the lead. What the Field Poll does show is that A.S. has an uphill climb. Only a day ago, it seemed that the election was his to lose, and no one besides the political pros took Bustamante seriously. To overcome the edge Democrats have in this state, he will have to be conservative enough to allow principled ideologues like Tom McClintock and Bill Simon to leave the race, but liberal enough not to alienate the rest of the human race. And, most of all, he must overcome the legacy of Prop. 187.

UPDATE: Obviously, Schwarzenegger won the election, using his status as an immigrant with a somewhat shaky past to overcome the legacy of Prop. 187, even winning a plurality of Latino votes. Any indication that this presaged a return to competive balance between the two parties was discredited, though, by John Kerry's easy win in the state the following year, as well as yet another landslide win by Senator Boxer. In the 2004 election, Latinos made up a record 14% of the electorate. Last year, Schwarzenegger's efforts to pass a series of propositions in the spirit of Prop. 13 failed badly, and he now runs behind two otherwise unknown Democrats for reelection.

August 15, 2003

The first Field Poll of the recall campaign shows the invincible Ahnolt losing to the unknown Cruz Bustamante, 25% to 22%, with Gray Davis trailing badly in his bid to avoid being terminated (sorry).
Kevin Drum of CalPundit challenges a certain Dixiecrat blogger to comment on the more pervasive phenomenum of white "affirmative action", a system of unacknowledged biases that allow unqualified people to fail upwards due to the color of their skin (the example used is that of Robert Hanssen, the FBI agent who "advanced on the career ladder despite weak performance, poor management skills and awkward relations with colleagues," while still managing to spy for the Russians for twenty years.

Unfortunately, membership does have its privileges; real affirmative action is designed to expand participation in programs, jobs, and educational slots beyond the favored class, whilst white affirmative action is geared towards limiting the applicant pool. But both get used by their detractors as examples of the unqualified receiving undeserved benefits, which is indeed a sad commentary on race relations.
Bad Timing: The Washington Post editorialized yesterday about how so, so, superior we are to the Euros, who are having a hard time adjusting to this summer's manifestation of global warning because they don't rely on air conditioning !! And, of course, the Post's headline this morning, presented without further comment.
How did I miss this? Former Princeton basketball star Nathan Whitecloud Walton is among the 135 who are running for governor. Nate, whose father Bill played in the NBA for several years with the Los Angeles Clippers and other teams, told the L.A. Times "(t)hat people are seriously considering Arnold shows you how little they think of the system we have. I actually studied politics at one of the premier institutions in the country, which gives me more qualifications than somebody who was Mr. Olympia."

August 14, 2003

But no Lazlo Toth: the entire slate of candidates for the upcoming election, complete with phone numbers and e-mail addresses, and a listing of how they will look on the ballot (current estimate: six pages !!). And, of course, an article about why A.S.' campaign is doomed.

August 13, 2003

Am I not the only person concerned that Ahnolt's campaign is shaping up to be little more than a stand-in for Pete Wilson? If anything can rally the base behind Cruz Bustamante(or even Gray Davis), it's the prospect of having that racist behind the scenes, using his Austrian beard to wage more wedge issue attacks on Latinos and blacks. Anyways, the notion that S-n-g-r is an "outsider" really won't wash anymore: like Perot, when he plunges, he will fall hard.
Proving, as always, that she's five minutes behind the cultural zeitgeist, Maureen Dowd columnizes about blogs, or rather, the blogs of Presidential hopefuls.[link via TalkLeft]

August 12, 2003

As I predicted, the kids picked the good girl over the gorgeous one last night. Dad seemed heartbroken; Ms. Fichtner's refusal to allow him one last kiss was the only honest moment on the entire series. It is not surprising that this show came out at roughly the same time as Ahnolt's campaign to be governor and Bush's "Op Gun" flight; each represents a nadir for our culture, a rejection of the authentic in favor of the manufactured moment. Which isn't to say I'm not going to need my Christy Fix real soon.

August 11, 2003

A bunch of polls are now out, with the most recent, by NBC, showing that Ahnolt has a sizable lead over Cruz Bustamante. The article emphasizes the obvious horse race numbers, but ignores the really big story, which is that the unknown Cruz Bustamante has 18% of the vote. Sw'n'g'r is known by just about everybody, but already about half the public has decided that under no circumstances will they vote for him. Besides getting the hard-core partisan Democratic vote, the "deputy governour", as the BBC referred to him the other night, stands to gain a huge boost from Latino voters, many of whom might be drawn to the polls to vote both in favor of the recall and in favor of electing California's first Latino Governor in 150 years.
Reading between the lines here, one can surmise that Ms. Fichtner lost tonight, and/or that she is about the least self-conscious bitch-on-wheels in the country. According to an article in her hometown paper, the former beauty queen admitted that she saw Who Wants to Marry My Dad? as a possible way to jump-start her career as a TV hostess: "I didn't do it as a dating opportunity...I did it as a career opportunity."

She also had a few words to say about the woman she bested in the '86 U.S.A. pageant, Halle Berry:
"I wouldn't trade my life for hers...Obviously we took very different paths in our lives. There are things I could have pursued, but chose family over a career at the time. She has yet to have children."
Meow !!

August 10, 2003

For those of you wondering, Georgy Russell filed her papers for Governor of the more recurrent themes that defenders of the circus have used is that with all the celebrity candidates, this election will make politics "more exciting" for the average voter. B.F.D. When Hamilton and Burr faced each other in a duel, it certainly was "exciting" politics, but I fail to see how that benefitted the public. The trick is for people to feel that politics is more relevant to their lives, not for politics to be more entertaining to the Fourth Estate.
Just saw my nephew for the first time. It is an unbelievable feeling to hold a days-old infant. His potential is limitless.

UPDATE: Charlie, and his Uncle Smythe.