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- what motivated incumbent Assemblyman Jose Solorio in choosing his successor
- what was the unrevealed point of Tefere Gebre’s rant against Solorio on election night, and
- why the implications of the race may echo far beyond the simply loss of a workers’ and consumer advocate in the Assembly.
The short and cryptic answers to the above, to be revealed over the next few days, are: “radical Hispanic agenda,” “Michele Martinez,” and “Kamala Harris.” It’s a story of what’s wrong in Orange County Democratic politics.
A month ago today, I was literally dancing in the streets. It was Election Day and I was in north Central Anaheim, in one of the handful of precincts where State Senate District 29, where I am running for office, overlaps Assembly District 69. For the campaign of Julio Perez, the game at this point was all about turnout. I was supposed to be knocking on doors and dropping literature on the porches of houses in the precinct for which I was responsible, north and west of La Palma and State College, but with the limited number of people at home (and the fact that many of them were a lot less Democratic than I expected), that seemed inefficient.
So I decided to take a tip from the private sector — specifically those who dispatch people with signs onto the sidewalk to boogaloo to invite people to try $5 foot-longs at Subway; sell the latest empty condo development; dress as the Statue of Liberty to bring people in to do their taxes; or convert their gold into cash and cash into gold, each time at a loss. I took a Julio Perez sign and danced for the passing cars on the sidewalk, my activity sending a simple message: “the election is today; get out and vote.”
At one point, Julio and two trusted supporters drove by and honked, then circled around the block and stopped to chat for a few minutes. I suspect that they came back either to make sure that they hadn’t been hallucinating or to give Julio a chance to stop laughing while he drove. I asked Julio if he thought I should stop — I am not the best dancer — and he said no, I could go on, because anything that could boost turnout was worth a try. The game was all about turnout.
(The rest of this next section is a little dry; skip ahead to section 2 if you don’t like numbers.)
Voter turnout in Anaheim for the June 5 primary in AD-69 was 18.42%, compared to 26.64% in neighboring AD-68 (mostly Anaheim Hills) and 19.08% in the AD-69 portion of notoriously low-turnout Santa Ana. That doesn’t tell the whole story of turnout, however. You want to know: how many voted in this race?
In the portion of Anaheim within AD-69, 6,506 citizens voted in the hypercompetitive Assembly race, 75.0% of the 8,673 ballots cast and 13.8% of the 47,092 votes were registered to vote. In the portion of Anaheim within AD-68, 10,364 citizens voted in the non-competitive Assembly race between Don Wagner and Christine Avalos — 89.8% of the 11,546 ballots cast and 23.9% of the 43,347 registered to vote. In AD-69′s portion of Santa Ana, where 17,847 of 92,548 registered voters coming to the polls, 16,584 of those citizens cast a ballot in the Assembly race: 17.9% of the registered electorate but a whopping 92.9% of those coming to the polls — a higher proportion than in Anaheim Hills! The problem was thus not simply getting people to the polls, it was getting them to vote in the Assembly race once there. In AD-69, Santa Ana did and Anaheim didn’t.
(Again, I know that this may seem dry — it will all become important later in the story.)
For the sake of completeness: the small portion of Garden Grove in AD-69 had turnout of 20.11% and the even smaller portion of Orange in AD-69 came out at 18.95%. (Combined, these two smallest portions of the district gave Republican Joe Moreno a 250-vote margin over Perez, more than the 242-vote margin of victory.)
Garden Grove voters cast 2,608 votes in AD-69, 18.6% of the registered voters and 92.6% of those coming to the polls. (Oddly, in this topsy-turvy race, Michele Martinez’s currying of the Vietnamese community may have slightly helped Perez here by taking Republican votes away from Joe Moreno; she got 14.1% of the Garden Grove vote and he got 22.7%. In Anaheim, Moreno got 28.9% and Martinez 11.1%.) In Orange, only 17.6% of the registered electorate voted in AD-69 — but of the ones that did come to the polls 93.0% voted in the AD-69 race. Finally, in the Anaheim of AD-68, the respective numbers are 23.9% and 89.8%.
Let me pull out and underline the result for you: if you came to the polls within AD-69 and you lived in Santa Ana, Garden Grave, or Orange, you were 92.9%, 92.6%, and 93.0% likely to cast a vote in AD-69. If you lived in Anaheim, you were 75.0% likely to vote. Now turn that result on its head to see the real shocker: you were 7.1%, 7.4%, and 7.0% likely to skip the race if you lived in those cities compared to being 25.0% likely to skip the race — about 3-1/2 times as likely – if you lived in Anaheim.
We will return to this point. Onto something more broadly interesting.
2. What Drove Solorio?
There is no question that the result in AD-69 was Jose Solorio’s victory. Julio Perez announced for the race first — and everyone in the know, including Solorio, was aware of it. But Solorio let the charge to keep Perez out of Sacramento. Solorio induced his “former mentor” Tom Daly, for whom his wife is a trusted assistant, into the race. Solorio induced Santa Ana City Councilor Michele Martinez into the race, after trying and failing to lure in Vincent Sarmiento and Sal Tinajero. It was Solorio’s grinning face that appeared next to Martinez’s on her final campaign mailer. It was Solorio who had endorsed both Daly and Martinez. I think that it is fair to say that Solorio is not a fan of Julio Perez — and this was his victory more than anyone’s.
What’s Solorio’s beef with Perez? Part of it is payback: Solorio is notorious as a “fifth columnist” within the Democratic Party, with a decent voting record on the floor (at least when his would not be the deciding vote) but a terrible record in committees, the bassinet in which good bills are more readily strangled to death in relative secrecy. (I won’t give all my examples here; I have already discussed Solorio’s trying to derail A.B. 52 in committee to help the poor insurance companies, although he was too prudent to vote against it on the floor vote and did not vote at all.) Perez has called Solorio on this over the years and Solorio does not like it one bit.
Part of it is personal ambition: an Assemblyman Perez would have been a formidable potential challenger in Senate District 34 (from which Solorio ally Lou Correa is being termed out) in 2014. Solorio would like to be the only Democrat in that race, which is sure to be fissured among Republicans from Supervisor Janet Nguyen to various other possible ambitious aspirants, like Jim Silva and perhaps the winner and/or the loser in the AD-72 runoff. (Joe Dovinh is likely to join in, but he’d primarily be taking votes away from Nguyen. A third Democrat, especially an Anglo progressive, would be the major threat to Solorio. Then, of course, there’s Albert Ayala — tanned, rested, and ready.)
But beyond that, part of it is ideology. Solorio like to talk about how he picked produce with his family when he was a child, but there is no remnant of the perspective of Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta about him. Let me tell you about the speech of his I heard at the Flag Day celebration on June 9 at the Teamsters Hall, attended primarily by the most conservative (and overwhelmingly older, white, and male) elements of the Orange County Labor movement.
I regret that I didn’t record the speech, but it sounded like a stump speech that I suspect Solorio has given many times for mostly non-Latino audiences — and there’s one part of it that is hard to forget. In the speech, Solorio distinguishes himself from other Latino politicians by speaking facetiously about what drove him into public service: his “Radical Hispanic Agenda.”
(Note: it may have been “Radical Latino Agenda” — neither I nor any of the people I’ve spoken to about it can quite remember — but I think that he called it “Hispanic,” the word “Latino” perhaps being more Latino-sounding than he wanted to convey.)
To paraphrase, Solorio said that the “Radical Hispanic Agenda” he promoted was one of good jobs, safe neighborhoods, and good schools. The facetious point, made broadly enough that even the most obtuse audience member would have gotten it, was that “Latinos are just like everyone else!” There’s no reason for white people to be afraid of Jose Solorio! He’s not really a radical!
He’s also, if you look closely at the three items he cited, not really a Democrat at all. Each of those terms is so empty that it is amenable to a Democratic construction — or a Republican one. And, in his record in the legislature — and in the quotes from his website, in italics below — Solorio has tended to support the Republican one.
“Good jobs”: A Democrat would say this means more protection for labor — less outsourcing, agreements to use union labor as part of contracts on public works projects, fewer giveaways to corporations. A Republican would say that this means giving more public money to private industries and let the jobs and wealth trickle down to workers. Guess which one Solorio concentrates on?
“The most important thing we can do to grow the economy is to empower employers to create new jobs. California residents prefer jobs over social services and handouts.”
“Safe neighborhoods”: A Democrat would say this means more parks, after school programs, decent police responsiveness to citizen calls, and decent treatment of citizens to obtain their trust and cooperation in community policing. A Republican would say that it means more and better armed police and harsher penalties for crimes. Where do you think homeboy stands?
As general funds at local and state levels decline, it is important that we ensure public safety is not compromised. We need to prevent and fight crime and we must have enough resources to keep violent criminals behind bars.
“Good schools”: A Democrat would focus on decent pay and better resources for teachers, on increasing funding more more teachers and support staff in public schools, lowering the cost of graduate education and — especially if Latino — protecting the focus on transitional bilingual education for children. A Republican would focus on charter schools, standardized testing and tracking, private “distance education” programs promoted by people who could make campaign contributions, etc. What does Solorio have to say?
California must improve its K-12 education system and continue to invest in its excellent higher education system to ensure a prosperous future.
OK, I have to admit that I have no idea as to what he actually means to say there — if anything. Let’s look at his total campaign contributions by sector instead and see if he looks like a Republican or a Democrat:
General Trade Unions $111,600
Public Sector Unions $69,650
Pharmaceuticals & Health Products $53,150
Real Estate $32,450
Tribal Governments $23,200
Telecom Services & Equipment $23,050
Health Professionals $22,150
Lawyers & Lobbyists $21,900
Electric Utilities $18,600
(And those trade union donations, by the way, are headed way down. The rest? Largely Republican.)
The point is not that public-private partnerships have no place in policy or that we don’t need to deter crime with effective punishment — it’s that if you only talk about that side of the equation, the part that huge donors will pay you to talk about, then you’re appealing purely to a Republican agenda.
But no less obnoxious that his leaving himself open to Republican positions with Democratic labels is the implicit message from Solorio that Latinos don’t have distinct interests that belong in a “radical agenda” — interests having to do with, for example, opposing racially and ethically based repression. There is a generally coherent Latino agenda — it shouldn’t be considered radical, but others often see it that way — that recognizes the Latinos face special struggles, including bigotry, that require social intervention. Solorio just dismissed it and defined it away.
In some ways, I think that he didn’t want Perez to win because of the inevitability of comparisons between them — and that Perez’s winning the district would give the lie to Solorio’s excuse that “the district demands this sort of conservatism” onto which he’s latched on for so long. Yes, Daly did win here — with a million dollars worth of help from independent expenditures, much of which involved negative attack ads on Perez – but that does not mean that one needs to be as conservative and craven as Solorio to do so.
3. Tefere’s Rant
Orange County Labor Federation Tefere Gebre is not one to hide his opinions — and he was in robust form when expressing them on election night. Unfortunately, the journalists transcribing them didn’t quite get the nature of his critique.
- “Jose Solorio is dead to me”
- Labor would no longer be an “ATM” for Business Caucus-oriented Democrats
- “We have nothing to do with corporate whores.”
- “Are we going to recycle the same assholes over and over again? If that’s the case, then what the [expletive] am I doing here?”
Gebre was widely criticized by moderate democrats who had heard his comments only second- or third-hand for being uncivil. In fact, those comments were triggered by something pretty specific: Solorio’s use of Michele Martinez to deny the a spot in the runoff to Julio Perez — and at the same time to deny the most Latino district in California the chance to be represented by a Latino Democrat.
I became deeply involved in the redistricting process in 2011, attending several meetings and writing various reports to the Redistricting Committee. So I am well-aware that the very purpose in creating the boundaries of AD-74 — espoused to some extent at the Santa Ana hearing and much more broadly in the Fullerton hearing — was to create a Latino-represented district in Orange County for the upcoming decade.
If you are a (most likely non-Democratic) reader of this blog who thinks that that is an illegitimate goal and that race and ethnicity should not matter, you’re entitled to that opinion. This discussion isn’t really about “what’s the right policy for society.” I think that undoing years of prejudice with districts reflecting the concentrations of ethnic and racial groups is good for society, because people from minority groups should both feel and be well-represented, and we can debate that in comment. You may be interested, though, in watching from the sideline a debate internal to the Democratic party about our status as a “broad front” or “big tent” party — and what responsibilities that entails to the members of our coalition.
If Daly had eliminated Perez from the race “fair and square” — and I don’t imply any cheating in that statement; you’ll see what I mean in a moment — I don’t think that Gebre would have been quite so exercised. It’s reasonable in principle to argue, as Solorio does in the article, “[Tuesday’s vote confirmed what he said all along], that this is a moderate district.”
It just happens, in this case, to be unadulterated horseshit.
When the biggest corporate and other conservative interests around spend a million dollars on a campaign, including a fair portion on de facto anonymous attack ads (few people in OC know what “JobsPAC” is) aimed at Perez, the value of which is greater than Perez’s own positive ads specifically because of their anonymous vitriol — then you can’t conclude a damn thing about what sort of district it is in the absence of such an onslaught. The experiment was ruined.
This led, by the way, to the remark that makes my heart sink about prospects of representation by Daly: “the independent expenditures were ‘helpful’ during the campaign, [but] his own decades of service were the key. ’Voters are looking for stability. They’re desperate for problem solvers. … I’m not an ideologue.’”
Stupid … or lying? Hard to tell. The independent expenditures may have been unnecessary to get Daly into the Top Two, which pretty much everyone expected, but they sure were necessary to keeping Perez out of it, which is what Daly wanted badly (and what Solorio probably wanted even more.) Perez likely would have consolidated Latino support — with the exception of Solorio and a few others — in the district and beaten Daly in the general election. The best chance to stop him was in the primary — which is why big business spent a million dollars trying to do it.
This is the result that Solorio wanted. His key to making it happen was getting another prominent Latino to run in the district. He finally got to the point of whispering blandishments into Michele Martinez’s ears — and offered her his endorsement (um, joint endorsement) in the hope that she would siphon off enough votes from Perez to keep him out of the race — exactly what happened.
Solorio would have had a difficult time if Martinez had finished. I’ve asked various people what he would done had she finished second. To a person, they’ve said that he would have supported Daly — while perhaps conveying to her his regrets that he simply couldn’t politically afford to do otherwise. Martinez might have gotten some support from the progressive wing of the party, but she did pretty much all she could during the campaign to make that impossible. Now, she has another not-that-close loss on her record — and not a noble one, like her campaign for Mayor of Santa Ana — and lots of new detractors whose support she would have needed in order to advance. Solorio comes out fine; Martinez comes out damaged — and I have it on good authority that this was a prime motivator of Gebre’s “asshole” and “dead to me” critique. Even if Michele doesn’t yet get how badly she was used, that doesn’t mean that it wasn’t rotten.
If you don’t think that it was a betrayal by Solorio, ask yourself whether Martinez could have gotten more money for her own campaign. Daly did polling, he should have known that he could have some room to spare. Why didn’t supporters express openly that some money should go to Martinez, as a way of ensuring that Perez didn’t make the runoff? Simple: he and his — which includes Solorio — didn’t want him to run against Martinez. That was dangerous. He could beat Moreno and Barragan — less likely Martinez, not likely Perez. And Solorio would have been in on such strategy discussions; check out his beaming face in the Register’s photo.
If this were just about treatment of Martinez and sucking up to big business, though, I wouldn’t care as much as I do. There was a larger cost to the Tom Daly victory — one showing a lack of concern by Orange County Democrats for issues beyond the county. Our elections are statewide, you know.
4. If an statewide election goes the wrong way by a thousand votes
If a statewide election is close, the way that Kamala Harris’s election was close in 2010 or that Prop 29 was close in June, it’s probably because Orange County weighed in heavily on the side of the issue that most Democrats opposed. That’s just the nature of the beast of California politics. As I’ve said repeatedly, “Orange County is where bad initiatives come to feed and good initiatives come to die.”
The main way to fight that is by turning out Democrats to vote. There aren’t a lot of shortcuts. Even in areas of the county where Democrats are likely to lose, the responsibility of the State and County Democratic Parties is to encourage them to come out to vote — not necessarily because they will support longshot candidates but because their votes on matters like the anti-union initiative up this November matter just as much as the votes in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Sacramento. And we can do even more here than people can there, because we have a lot of voters who may stay home if they are discouraged, but who will come out if you give them something to vote for. Once out at the polls they will vote further on down the ballot if they’re told by people they respect about how important it is to do so. To increase Democratic turnout, the Bay Area and West LA have to go after high-hanging fruit; we here in Orange County can go after low-hanging fruit — and harvest more of it.
Latino turnout has been a continual problem. How do you improve it? You give Latinos a stake in it — and you give them respect. That means respect not simply as people who have something that we want, but respect as people who have an agenda — even a “radical agenda” — and who deserve to be represented by people in office who understand it and will push for it.
I think that it’s a pretty fair bet that Latino turnout in November is likely to be low for a Presidential year, especially in AD-69. Latinos are not going to rush out to vote for Tom Daly! (He’ll still win, because they also won’t rush out to vote for Joe Moreno due to his party affiliation, but it will be lower that one would expect in the district in a Presidential election.) Had Michele Martinez been on the ballot, it would have been better, despite that Michele doesn’t speak Spanish. Had Paco Barragan been on the ballot, it would have been better, despite that Paco is a lot more fiscally conservative than most in the district.
Had Julio Perez been on the ballot, it would have been huge. Latinos don’t get to vote for someone that good and that talented very often.
Who gets hurt by a lower Latino turnout? Barack Obama will win the state regardless. Dianne Feinstein will win regardless. We have no other statewide candidates to worry about this time. Loretta Sanchez will win regardless. Sharon Quirk-Silva will be working hard in West Anaheim, Stanton, and Buena Park; Jay Chen (fluent in Spanish) will do the same in La Habra and Placentia, and so on.
Where do Democrats get hurt? The statewide initiatives. This year, there is one must-pass and one must-defeat for Democrats, alongside the other ones that would be critical in a more normal year. If we lose 1000 Democratic votes in AD-69, or 10,000 of them, because there’s no Latino Democrat to excite people in the AD-69 race — that is where it will be felt.
That’s not the only place it will be felt, though. For lots of Latinos, ones to whom Solorio does not give his dismissive “Radical Hispanic Agenda” talk, the inability to work for a Latino Democrat in the most Latino district in the state will be taken as a slap in the face for Latinos by Democrats. Their alienation will long be felt; this is not how a party treats respected partners in a political coalition and Latinos will likely remember it for a long time. (Hopefully they’ll remember that the man who orchestrated it was himself a Latino — although not, of course, one with a “radical agenda.”)
Among the reasons that Daly might not have wanted to run in AD-69 — aside from “respect for Latino’s as a Democratic coalition partner” and “his salary gets cut in half” — is that he’s never going to have a safe election in this district, he’ll never be able to rest easy, he’ll have people scouring his record and he’ll have Latino opposition every time out — and he can’t expect too be bailed out by a “helpful” million dollars of independent expenditures every time.
The funny thing is, there is a district available soon where Daly would be a very good candidate — and if I’m not mistaken, he lives there. It’s whiter and more conservative than AD-69, but it’s still amenable to Democrats. With two years of legislative experience under his belt, he’d be a good fit. After all, while lots of people think that he’s been a bit used by Solorio this time out, and that he was induced into a bad decision to run — it’s not like most people hate him personally.
What’s that district? SD-34 — the Senate district that Lou Correa holds and that Jose Solorio — who would be a lousy candidate there — covets. Maybe Daly can ask Solorio whether, if they both run, Solorio would consider issuing another joint endorsement.(Part 2, which may take a while for me to complete, will address campaign expenditures in AD-69. Disclosure: I am a Democratic candidate for State Senate in a district with a substantial Latino presence, although I’d write the exact same article even if I weren’t. Pero, mi español es bastante malo. )