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California Democrats jel under Party Chair Rusty Hicks

Trump’s negativity will spur Democratic activism

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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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California

9th Circuit Court of Appeals blocks lower court overturn of assault rifle ban

Benitez ruled that California’s three-decade-old ban on assault weapons violates the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

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SAN FRANCISCO – In a ruling issued Monday, a three-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals issued a stay of U.S. District Judge Roger Benitez’s controversial decision to overturn California’s assault weapons ban on June 4. The ruling will be on hold until the 9th Circuit court decides on a separate gun control case.

Benitez ruled that California’s three-decade-old ban on assault weapons violates the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The state had first crafted the ban in 1989 and in the intervening thirty-two years lawmakers in Sacramento had repeatedly amended the law.

Benitez overturned the ban and likened an AR-15 semiautomatic gun to a Swiss army knife, calling it “good for both home and battle.” California Governor Gavin Newsom took exception to the comparative made by Judge Benitez remarking at the time;

“Today’s decision is a direct threat to public safety and the lives of innocent Californians, period. As the son of a judge, I grew up with deep respect for the judicial process and the importance of a judge’s ability to make impartial fact-based rulings, but the fact that this judge compared the AR-15 – a weapon of war that’s used on the battlefield – to a Swiss Army Knife completely undermines the credibility of this decision and is a slap in the face to the families who’ve lost loved ones to this weapon. We’re not backing down from this fight, and we’ll continue pushing for common sense gun laws that will save lives.”

The Roberti-Roos Assault Weapons Control Act of 1989 (AWCA) is a California law that bans the ownership and transfer of over 50 specific brands and models of semi-automatic firearms, which were classified as assault weapons. Most were rifles, but some were pistols and shotguns.

The case, Miller v. Bonta (previously Miller v. Becerra) had been brought by the  Firearms Policy Coalition, (FPC) which in 2019, developed and filed the suit as a federal Second Amendment challenge to California’s Assault Weapons Control Act (AWCA). The FPC argued that the State’s ban prohibits arms that are constitutionally protected, no more lethal than other certain arms that are not banned, and commonly possessed and used for lawful purposes in the vast majority of the United States.

California Attorney General Rob Bonta had appealed Benitez’s ruling. On Monday he said in a tweet; “This leaves our assault weapons laws in effect while appellate proceedings continue. We won’t stop defending these life-saving laws.”

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Orange County

Disney honors Pride month and keeps some pandemic rules for now

“I was lost, desperate to connect with someone who understood what I was feeling. That all changed when I arrived at Disneyland.”

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Graphic via the Walt Disney Company's Disney Parks, Experiences and Products Division

ANAHEIM – The Walt Disney Company’s Disney Parks, Experiences and Products, (DPEP) is celebrating and honoring Pride this year, highlighting its LGBTQ employees as well as supporting a welcoming and embracing work environment where LGBTQ+ cast members are encouraged to be their authentic selves.

Writing for the company’s blog, Michelle Mockler, DPEP’s External Communications Manager profiled  James Heath, a Senior Duty Manager at the Disneyland California Adventure Park. Heath, who has been employed by the Disney company since he was 17, related his personal experiences with Disney that he said shaped not only his career as an employee but as a gay man as well.

In the winter of 2000, Heath applied for a job position in hopes of fulfilling a lifelong dream of becoming a cast member, a term that Disney describes it employees as. After several interviews, James was offered a cast member role as a Food & Beverage Host.

According to Heath, he didn’t realise that position working at Disneyland had just given him something far more important than a job… “It gave me a place to belong,” he told Mockler.

Mockler writes that just two years prior, Heath had made the decision to come out as gay. At 15 years old, he found himself as the only openly gay student in his school.

“While I was fortunate to have supportive family and friends by my side, I was missing something truly critical at this time in my life: Other people like me. I was lost, desperate to connect with someone who understood what I was feeling. That all changed when I arrived at Disneyland.”

At Disney, James found himself working alongside other LGBTQ+ cast members. He found people, with whom he could share stories, compare experiences and talk through challenges.

“Being gay was no different to my coworkers and leaders than any of the other countless qualities that make each of us unique.”

Twenty-one years later, the now thirty-eight year old Senior Disney Manager related; “Sometimes I wonder who I would be today had I not had this safe place to grow into my own skin. I was fortunate to have allies who courageously pushed against outdated ideas to give me a safe place to thrive.”

Heath says that he’s found himself in the role of leader, mentor, ally and advocate.

“It’s my turn to give back and help to further our culture of inclusivity. Somewhere out there, a future cast member is looking for a place where they can belong. I’m committed to helping them find it at Disney.”

As Disney celebrates Pride Month, this past week as the State of California lifted most of the restrictions imposed by California state and local health officials and Governor Gavin Newsom. However, Disney officials have decided to keep in place for the time being some of those measures.

“I don’t want to say we are going to go back to the way it was,” Josh D’Amaro, chairman of Disney Parks, Experiences and Products, said Thursday about managing the parks. “I want to be really smart in the way we do this.”

The parks at the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim in Orange County are continuing to reopen in phases, but a handful of the COVID-era changes are going to stick.

In an interview with the Los Angeles Times this past week, D’Amaro said that the company is poised to keep “in place a reservation system that was adopted to manage visitor numbers under the state-imposed capacity limits and the continued use of a virtual queuing system that was designed to give all parkgoers a shot at visiting the most popular attractions.”

Currently valid theme park admission as well as a confirmed park reservation about both required if a guest wishes to visit either Disneyland or Disney California Adventure. Park Pass Reservations are also currently required at Disney World.

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California

Newsom ushers in state’s full reopening at Universal Studios Hollywood

California was one of the only states to achieve a week-over-week increase rate of vaccinations, most recently with a 22% increase

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Governor Gavin Newsom ushers in state's reopening at Universal Studios (Photo Credit: Office of the Governor of California)

STUDIO CITY – As California moved to fully reopen the economy Tuesday, California Governor Gavin Newsom welcomed the milestone at Universal Studios Hollywood, where he highlighted the attractions Californians can look forward to revisiting this summer.

Starting today, June 15, the restrictions that have been in place over the past year will be eliminated, including physical distancing, capacity limits, county tier systems and masks in almost all settings for vaccinated Californians.  The Golden State was one of the only states in the country to achieve a week-over-week increase in the rate of vaccinations, most recently with a 22 percent increase in vaccinations.

“Today, we celebrate the incredible strength and resilience of Californians – from our heroic health care workers to essential workers across the board to everyday Californians from all walks of life – who have supported each other through hardship and heartache over the past year, making sacrifices to save countless lives and enable us to turn the page on this pandemic,” said Newsom. “As we look ahead to better days, we will continue to look out for one another, redoubling our support to those hit hardest by the pandemic and making unprecedented investments to address California’s most persistent challenges, so that the entire state comes roaring back together.”

Newsom also selected 10 lucky Californians to receive $1.5 million each – for a total of $15 million – as part of the final cash prize drawing in the state’s Vax for the Win program. 30 prior winners won a total of $1,500,000.

Tuesday’s selection of 10 $1.5 million winners caps off the cash prize giveaways as part of the $116.5 million Vax for the Win program – the largest vaccine incentive program in the nation. The program previously selected 30 winners to receive $50,000 each, for a total of $1,500,000. In addition, the program is providing $100 million in $50 prepaid or grocery cards for newly vaccinated people, while supplies last. Governor Newsom also highlighted the upcoming California Dream Vacations, a new Vax for the Win incentive in which vaccinated Californians have the chance to win one of six in-state vacation packages in a drawing on July 1.

In a press release, the Governor’s office touted his administration’s accomplishments that had been spread out over the duration of the pandemic in the past 15 months.

  • California is forecasted to outpace the country’s economic recovery, ranked as the No. 1 U.S. economy for “expanding GDP, raising household income, investing in innovation,” and more.
  • California is creating more jobs than any other state for three months in a row, adding 385,000 jobs; in April alone, California created 38 percent of the nation’s jobs.
  • The state consistently has amongst the lowest case rates and transmission rates in the nation, and hospitalizations dipped to the lowest point since March 2020.
  • More than 40 million vaccinations have been administered in California, surpassing the next closest state by 16 million, with over 70 percent of adults having at least one shot. 

The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health noted that at the peak of the pandemic the County was losing 277 residents a day. Hospitals were under enormous strain, with more than 8,000 people hospitalized with COVID-19 and there were more than 15,000 new cases diagnosed each day.

L.A. County is in a better place than any other metro area of similar size in the entire nation. Each day, on average, only 1.5 cases per 100,000 people are diagnosed in L.A. County, compared with 2.8 cases in the same population in the New York City metro area, 2.9 cases in Chicago, 3.5 cases in Atlanta, 5.3 cases in Houston, and 9.1 cases in Miami. Only 0.4% of COVID-19 tests in L.A. County are positive, compared with 0.8% in New York, 1.3% in Chicago, 1.7% in Atlanta, 3.3% in Houston, and 3.7% in Miami.

Over the past six months, the tremendous effort to get the vaccine into the arms of residents has gotten the County to a place where as of June 11, more than 5,490,637 (66%) of eligible L.A. County residents have received one dose of the vaccine and 4,668,783 (56%) are fully vaccinated.

“After 16 months of enormous upheaval and loss, we can now move forward with a genuine sense of hope. We can and should feel joy while recognizing and honoring the immense collective effort that brought us to the point where we can fully reopen. We remain committed to protecting your health and to closing gaps in health outcomes associated with COVID-19.,”said Barbara Ferrer, Director of Public Health.

“Case counts and transmission are low because of our shared efforts to implement a layered approach to preventing transmission.  As we reopen, we are mindful that for those not yet vaccinated, protection is highly dependent on our continued actions to take care of each other. Sensible protections for our essential workforce will be instrumental in keeping transmission of COVID-19 in check,” she added.

Unvaccinated people need to remain very careful and wear masks when they are around people outside their household, and if in close contact with others, including at worksites, they should consider upgrading their masks to a respirator, such as an N95, or a KN95.  These masks do a much better job protecting the wearer from other people’s germs, a spokesperson for Public Health said.

Public Health continues to urge unvaccinated people to get vaccinated. Through Thursday, June 17 at County-run vaccination sites, participating LA city and mobile sites, and St. John’s Well Child and Family Center sites, everyone 18 and older coming to get their first vaccine or who brings a first-time vaccine recipient with them to their second dose appointment, will have an opportunity to win a pair of season tickets to the 2021-2022 home season of the Clippers, the Rams, or the Chargers. Official rules and participating site locations are posted online on the Los Angeles County Vaccination Sweepstakes page.  Winners will be contacted by phone and/or email.

To find a vaccination site near you, to make an appointment at vaccination sites, and much more, visit: www.VaccinateLACounty.com (English) and www.VacunateLosAngeles.com (Spanish). If you don’t have internet access, can’t use a computer, or you’re over 65, you can call 1-833-540-0473 for help finding an appointment, connecting to free transportation to and from a vaccination site, or scheduling a home-visit if you are homebound.  Vaccinations are always free and open to eligible residents and workers regardless of immigration status.

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