August 8, 2019 at 2:25 pm PDT | by Karen Ocamb
California Democrats jel under Party Chair Rusty Hicks

Out Los Angeles County Democratic Party Chair Mark Gonzalez and California Democratic Party Chair Rusty Hicks at a July 30 debate watch party (Photo courtesy LACDP)

If the country wasn’t reeling from three mass shootings in a row, the news out of Orange County, California might be more stunning. The bastion of rock-ribbed red conservative Republicanism and cruel anti-LGBTQ Christian zealots who preached that AIDS was God’s revenge against homosexuals has officially turned blue.

According to statistics released Aug. 7 by the county Registrar of Voters, Orange County has 547,458 registered Democrats, compared to 547,369 registered Republicans. No Party Preference voters swelled to 440,770 or just over 27 % of voters behind the once impenetrable Orange Curtain.

Since last February, the California GOP has officially been a third party, according to the California Sec. of State, with 23.6% of registered voters compared to 43.1% Democrats and 28.3% No Party Preference.

Democrats attribute the Orange County sea change to “changing demographics, aggressive recruitment efforts and President Trump,” the Los Angeles Times reports, while Republicans blame the numbers on GOP flight from “high housing costs, poor schools and lackluster job opportunities.”

This is the region where Democrats flipped four of the House seats Speaker Nancy Pelosi fears may flip back if 2020 election politics focus on impeaching Donald Trump. Nonetheless, Reps. Katie Hill and Harley Rouda endorsed holding impeachment hearings.

Another 2020 drama is playing out between the White House, Republican National Committee, and the state GOP who filed two lawsuits Aug. 6 against California Gov. Newsom and Secretary of State Alex Padilla to block a new law requiring presidential candidates, including Trump, to release their tax returns in order to qualify for the March 3, 2020 primary ballot. Meanwhile, in California’s 22nd Congressional District, Trump ally Rep. Devin Nunes has filed a defamation lawsuit against his own constituents. In Hollywood this is called “jumping the shark.”

California Democratic Party Chair Rusty Hicks, the party’s new steward elected to mend internal fences and build on the progressive victories of 2018, is off to a good start. He was lauded last June for creating a task force, which included Equality California Executive Director Rick Zbur, to address misconduct and harassment within the party.

Hicks is keenly aware of his responsibilities.

“We are at a moment in our history in which we have a current occupant in the White House that is not just tolerating white supremacy but is perpetuating and promoting white supremacy,” Hicks told the Los Angeles Blade by phone Aug. 6. “White nationalism is something that we, as a society, and certainly as the California Democratic Party—it’s particularly important that we stand up, step up, and speak out against the hate and the rhetoric that we’re seeing. Hate and rhetoric is turning into hateful action on so many different fronts.”

The CDP, Hicks says, is committed to “ensuring that voices that are reflective of the diversity, the strength of our state and of our party, are up front and center.”

But with identifiable openly LGBTQ leaders such as former chair Eric Bauman now out of the picture, how is the LGBTQ community represented within the top CDP structure?

“We have just recently appointed our standing committees within the party. These are the nine committees that carry out the work of the party. We had a goal of ensuring that a large number of those were from the LGBTQ community,” Hicks says. “Today, 20% of our appointees to standing committees are members of the LGBTQ community; 60% are delegates and party activists of color; a large number of young leaders—more than 20% are under the age of 35. I’m really proud of the inclusivity and the diversity that we’re seeing in some of our party’s decision-making body.”

Hicks, a straight white ally who marched in the LA Pride Parade, says he is monitoring what is happening in Modesto as plans unfold for a white Straight Pride rally. “We’re certainly coordinating with our partners on the ground to ensure that we push back against events like this,” he says, though no specific action plans have yet been developed.

Modesto is in the 10th Congressional District that Democrat Josh Harder took from Republican Jeff Denham in a close 2018 race. Harder’s seat is considered vulnerable. But Hicks promises to work hard to retain that seat and the other 2018 seats that flipped the House for the Democrats.

We’re certainly going to ensure that we protect and preserve the gains of 2018 by harnessing the power, the energy that brought us those victories, like Congressman Harder’s, Congressman Cox, the four members in Orange County, one right here in Los Angeles,” says Hicks. “There was a lot of activism in 2018. I know with the negative energy coming out of the White House, I’m certain that activists on the ground are prepared to do the hard, gritty, house-to-house work that it takes to be successful, to actually communicate with your family, and friends, and neighbors about why protecting and preserving this seat is so incredibly important at this particular moment in our history. Just as we did in 2018, we’re prepared to hold that seat in 2020 and beyond.”

  Hicks is also keenly aware of the importance of LGBTQ voters and activists.

“You could look from one campaign to the other in the success of Democratic candidates—the LGBTQ community is an important part of that victory and that path to victory, not just in raw votes on election day, but on the organizing, plan, and path to get to Election Day, be it field organizing capacity, financial resources, the ability to communicate with a large number of voters within the LGBTQ community,” says Hicks. The LGBTQ community “is an important community for our long-term success.”

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