California’s jungle Primary captured the wild imaginations of politicos nationwide. With so many Democrats running for Republican congressional seats in districts Hillary Clinton won in 2016, would they cancel themselves out and enable two Republicans to emerge as the top-two vote getters to run in November’s midterm elections. It mattered: the road to retaking the House of Representatives runs through the Golden State.
That didn’t happen. Democrats will face Democrats or Democrats will face Republicans, just like the old days of partisan primaries.
“It looks like voters are going to have a real choice this November — between a governor who is going to stand up to Donald Trump and a foot soldier in Trump’s war on California,” Newsom said Election Night
And while there was a breath-taking glitch in voting—out Los Angeles County Registrar of Voters Dean Logan announced that the names of more than 118,000 voters were accidentally left off the rolls at a number of polling places—Democrats appear ready to rally around their candidates. Former LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who campaign was probably most impacted by the glitch, asked elections officials to extend voting for three days but when they declined, he immediately endorsed rival Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom.
“I’m asking you to get behind Gavin Newsom,” said Villaraigosa after conceding. “I’m asking you to stand up and pressure every one of us — Democrat and Republican alike — pressure every one of us to stand up for you, to fight for you, not just for ourselves, but for all of us for an America and a California where every one of us are growing together.”
Newsom, who’s been running for governor since Feb. 2015, made a strategic calculation to announce his preference for running against a Republican to save money and resources for down-ticket races and to energize a base that might be too apathetic to vote knowing a Democrat would be elected governor. Newsom angered some Democrats by “attacking” Republican John Cox in ads, touting the businessman’s closeness to Donald Trump, which served to raise Cox’s visibility and inspire GOP voters to turn out in the vulnerable districts Democrats hoped to flip.
“We put a businessman in the White House, let’s put a businessman in the governor’s mansion!” Cox said upon winning.
Trump’s tweeted endorsement of Cox helped also, as did Cox hitching his wagon to the Gas Tax Repeal initiative organized by conservative gay radio talk show host Carl DeMaio.
It’s oddly ironic that the top two candidates for governor of California owe their initial visibility to gay people—Newsom for giving marriage licenses to same sex couples in 2004 and Cox for advocating for the gas tax repeal and the recall of Fullerton Democrat State Senator Josh Newman for being the deciding vote in passing the gas tax, intended for infrastructure repair. The recall was also initiated by DeMaio,
“I think Democrats are shaking in their boots in California,” DeMaio said on MSNBC Wednesday. “Democrats lost their super majority in the State Legislature because of that recall. There is a taxpayer revolt happening in California that we haven’t seen since Prop 13, claiming that support for the measure boosted Cox and Republican Diane Harkey in the 49th Congressional District to replace retiring Rep. Darrell Issa. It appears she will face Democrat Mike Levin who scored 17.1% in a field of 16 candidates, four of whom were Democrats.
“This issue will trump Trump,” said DeMaio. “When the Democrats pull the Trump card out, the Republicans, if they’re smart, will talk about issues that actually matter to working families such as repealing the gas tax and, of course, dealing with issues such as the sanctuary state issue, dealing with our failing public schools. Issues that really hit home with the toss-up voters in each of these districts.”
Samuel Garrett-Pate, Communications Director for Equality California, is happy to have that debate.
“We now have at the top of our ticket a clear choice between someone who’s leading the resistance and someone who is a pro-Trump Republican and I think California voters across the state – member of the Democratic Party and frankly, moderate Republicans – are pretty clear on where they stand on the divisive hateful politics of the Trump-Pence administration. So I think [having Cox in] could be a motivating factor to pro-equality voters,” Garrett-Pate told the Los Angeles Blade. “This is now a referendum on where we stand on the Trump-Pence administration.”
He has a different take on the recall of the state senator. “It is extremely unfortunate that we lost a pro-equality champion in Josh Newman,” Garrett-Pate noted. “That being said, I don’t think you can extrapolate one senate district to the entire state. We saw across the state pro-equality candidates and candidates who support investment in infrastructure, among many other things, do well in their primaries. I think my friend from San Diego (DeMaio) is getting a little ahead of himself.”
But asserting that the gas tax hurts working families has been considered a non-partisan issue. “What also hurts working families is not being able to drive on California roads and bridges because they’re falling apart,” he said. “Look, the Republican Party is now in third party status in the state of California so I’m really not buying this whole argument that that there is going to be a Red Wave (created by the gas tax). And if that is the assumption that forces who vote against LGBTQ equality everyday want to make—then that’s a mistake on their part but one that I’ll be happy to watch them make as we continue to fight to make sure that our candidates end up in office in November.”
Garrett-Pate also noted the intense Equality California get-out-the-vote effort for Harley Rouda, who has a 73-vote lead over another viable Democrat, Hans Keirstead, in the race for the second spot in the 48th CD. The victor will face a very weakened anti-LGBT Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher who only managed to bring in 30.3% of the votes in a district he’s represented since 1989.
The June 5 primaries saw a number of LGBT candidates and allies advance. State Sen. Ricardo Lara is in the top two for California Insurance Commissioner. If elected, Lara will become California’s first LGBTQ statewide elected official and the only LGBTQ person of color elected to statewide office in the nation.
Other LGBT candidates in races for the California state legislature include: Joy Silver (SD-28), Sonia Aery (AD-3), Jackie Smith (AD-6), and Sunday Gover (AD-77).
There is particular excitement around out married bisexual Katie Hill who squeaked into the second spot in CD 25 to challenge anti-LGBT Republican incumbent Steve Knight, son of notoriously anti-gay Pete Knight, author of Prop 22, known as the Knight Initiative. If elected, she will become California’s first openly LGBT female member of Congress, joining Rep. Mark Takano. Clinton carried the district by six percentage points in 2016, making it a top target for both national parties this year.
“Time’s up on Congressman Knight’s years of fighting against equality and working to protect those who would discriminate against LGBTQ Californians,” said Equality California Executive Director Rick Zbur. “Yesterday, voters embraced Katie Hill’s values of inclusion and equality because they know she’ll bring Democrats and Republicans together and fight for a government that’s accountable to real people.”
Ari Gutierrez, co-founder of Latino Equality Alliance, is not as sanguine as others about the matchup between Newsom and Cox.
“I don’t look forward to a Republican challenge in the Governor’s race. I think the 2016 election taught us not to be over-confident in the votes or the outcome. We have to work for every win,” Gutierrez told the LA Blade.
“We are very excited that Sen. Ricardo Lara finished in the top two for Insurance Commissioner! However, like in the Governor’s race, I don’t look forward to the Republican challenge. We will have to work hard for a win in that race.”
Gutierrez is also concerned about the election process. She was one of the 118,000 voters whose names were missing from the rolls.
“I have voted in every election in Los Angeles County for the last 30 years—yet my name was not listed on the voter rolls! It required a special ‘provisional’ ballot for me to vote that had to be worked out with the poll place supervisors,” she said. “There were several individuals in the same situation at my polling place while I was there and I’ve heard similar scenarios from my family and friends. One Facebook post indicated Spanish speaking voters whose names were not on the voter rolls left without voting because the process could not be explained to them. So that is a big problem especially if it is determined that Latino voters were disproportionally affected by this snafu.”