History will mark this moment, this May 12 special election in the California 25th congressional district as either a rebuff of President Trump or a resignation to Trumpism. In the race to fill former Rep. Katie Hill’s vacated seat, Democratic Assemblymember Christy Smith is neck-in-neck with Trump fanboy Mike Garcia, whose primary qualification seems to be that he is a former defense industry executive and one-time fighter pilot who promises to cut taxes.
Trump wants to win the seat badly, tweeting over the weekend: “Governor @GavinNewsom of California won’t let restaurants, beaches and stores open, but he installs a voting booth system in a highly Democrat area (supposed to be mail in ballots only) because our great candidate, @MikeGarcia2020, is winning by a lot. CA25 Rigged Election!”
In fact, as KPCC reported May 5, it was the twice-elected Republican Mayor of Lancaster, R. Rex Parris, who requested an in-person voting center from the LA County Registrar of Voters because he is concerned about the disenfranchisement of his very GOP city’s high concentration of black and Latino voters.
“This is something the county should fix immediately,” Parris told KPCC, even though voter confusion would help Garcia, whom he supports. “There should not be even the appearance of affecting the outcome by limiting the ability to vote.”
Parris added: “I want Mike to win, I think he’d be a better congressman, but I don’t want to ‘jimmy’ the election.”
Because of the coronavirus pandemic, Gov. Newsom issued an executive order that all elections must be conducted through mail-in ballots, although ballots can also be dropped off and some areas still offer in-person voting at local voting centers, preferred by low-income and foreign-born voters, according to election officials.
Republicans tend to turn out more than Democrats for special elections. On Sunday, the Los Angeles Times reported that “a ballot was mailed to each of the 25th District’s roughly 425,000 voters, with return postage paid. As of Saturday, 39% of GOP voters had mailed in their ballots compared with 25% of Democrats, according to Political Data Inc.”
Without a shred of irony, Garcia, 44 — who praises proud sexual harasser Trump at every juncture — used Hill’s resignation over leaked revenge-porn nude photos to augment his campaign against Smith.
“The last year and a half has been an embarrassment for our district,” Garcia wrote in an op-ed in the Santa Clarita Valley Signal. “And it’s time we restore integrity to our representation in our nation’s capitol.”
Meanwhile, Smith, 50, has campaigned as an educator and community activist who cares more about the health, social and financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic than false and dangerous survival-of-the-fittest bravado. One Smith campaign ad features video of Garcia extolling Trump’s leadership and says, “Everyone should have to figure out how to fend for themselves” during the pandemic.
During a Zoom debate, Garcia also touted the 2017 tax cut as “the catalyst and the fuel that started this booming economy that is now the best economy, before the coronavirus, that this world has ever seen.”
The reality now, however, is that the coronavirus has hit the state hard: as of Monday, May 11, California has 67,939 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with 2,770 deaths. That’s in addition to 4.5 million unemployed and businesses in all sectors that may or may not survive, schools closed to the end of the year and May serving as “the transitional period into the Western Fire Season,” with some areas of concern for the summer months.
Meanwhile, Gov. Newsom has to delicately deal with a temperamental narcissistic president in order to get desperately needed federal funding.
Even when the times weren’t so dire, the Los Angeles Times April 17 endorsement of Smith was clear: “There’s no question which candidate is better prepared to step into the debate and help shape smart policy. That’s state Assemblywoman Christy Smith, a quietly accomplished and centrist Democrat whose background includes stints as a U.S. Department of Education policy analyst and as a longtime member of the Newhall School District board. Her experience guiding a school district through the last economic downturn and now the state through its pandemic response makes her uniquely qualified for precisely this job at precisely this moment,” said The Times.
“Smith’s opponent, by comparison, is simply not a good fit for Congress at any moment,” with the editorial noting that Republican Mike Garcia‘s “nice backstory…doesn’t translate into legislative competence.”
But as Trump’s presidency indicates, competency is no longer a qualification to be an elected or public official.
Smith’s race against Garcia is a test: will those who claim to value their vote actually vote for a representative democracy or will voters slough off civic responsibility despite knowing the calamity a Garcia victory portends?
Mail-in ballots will count if they are postmarked by midnight on Tuesday, May 12, as long as they land at election offices in Ventura and Los Angeles counties by the close of business on Friday.
If Republicans succeed in flipping this blue district back to red, they will certainly cheer and Trump will tweet his thumbs off. It may also serve as a wake-up call for Democrats who do not think they have to worry about losing ground in November.
But this is not like any other predictable election year and while Smith and Garcia will face each other again on Nov. 3 to seek their own full two-year term, the winner of the CA 25th race on May 12 will have bragging rights and time in Congress to vote on funding and other matters immediately critical to California.