In “El Pollo,” are Dems REALLY going to give Latinos the bird?

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Adaptation of logo for Gustavo Arellano's "Ask A Mexican" column.

If you ask Tom Daly a question once he's in Sacramento, will he answer like the representative of the most Latino Assembly District in California? (By the way, "gabacho" is a Spanish term for "foreigner" -- literally, if you can trust Google Translate, "Frenchy" -- defined by the Urban Dictionary (aka the Wikipedia of slang) as a "Chicano pejorative term for an English-speaking non-Hispanic." In Orange County's common culture it has been popularized by Gustavo Arellano's syndicated ¡Ask a Mexican! column, the logo of which I violently misuse above.)

 

Tomorrow, Region 18 of the California Democratic Party will meet in its “Pre-endorsement conference,” which will consider endorsements for candidates in all of Orange County except for the North.  (New Assembly Districts 55 and 65, the Orange County portion of which cuts from roughly Cypress and Stanton to Yorba Linda, and the other mostly overlapping districts are in Region 18, which meets Sunday in Claremont.)

Most of the endorsements, in races with only one “serious” Democrat running, are expected to be routine — Loretta Sanchez in the new CA-46; Sukhee Kang in the new CA-45; Long Beach’s Alan Lowenthal in the exciting and competitive new CA-47, and Joe Dovinh in the new AD-72.  [Saturday Update: news comes out today that AD-72 may have a second candidate — or some other complication.  No details so far.]  The exception is the Santa Ana and Anaheim-based AD-69.  More Democratic angst is going into AD-69, the shape of which has led me to dub it “El Pollo Local,” than into the rest of the districts combined.

The Field

Four Democrats with any sort of name recognition (including Orange Juice’s own Francisco Barragan, whom Democrats across the political spectrum seem both to respect and to wish that he would run instead for Carlos Bustamante’s seat in Santa Ana instead of riding a down escalator to irrelevancy) are running in AD-69.  Two are from Anaheim, two from Santa Ana.  Two current officeholders, one not.  Three male, one female.  Three Latino, one a little less Latino than Queen Elizabeth.

Santa Ana Councilmember Michelle Martinez may or may not have shot herself in the foot yesterday with the report (which she has denied) that she was talking loudly on her cell phone on a train, unwittingly in front of a reporter, about her illegally coordinating with an Indian casino honcho regarding independent expenditures, but either way she seems likely to come in third among the Democrats and not to make the runoff.  Unlike some commenters in our fine county, I make no ironclad prediction regarding the result; it’s just my impression from discussions with a variety of Democrats.  City Clerk-Recorder Tom Daly and labor organizer Julio Perez both seem to have fired up their respective constituencies.  Martinez has the support of the Santa Ana political establishment, but those players do not seem to have a lot of skin in this game.

My sense is that many of Santa Ana’s top pols are simply seeking any way to avoid supporting Perez, a battling reformist who among other things has for years been a major thorn in current Assemblyman Jose Solorio’s side, without actually going out and supporting a non-Latino over him.  Martinez making a runoff against would solve the problem for them, even if they sat on their hands in the general election and allowed Daly to win.  If she made a runoff against Perez, by contrast, her Santa Ana supporters would pull out all of the stops for her.

And that’s just about enough about Martinez for this story.  The match-up that is roiling Democrats right now is a prospective November runoff between Daly and Perez.  Up until now, there have been mere skirmishes between the opposing forces; Daly-supporter and Democratic Party of Orange County Chair Frank Barbaro unexpectedly bringing out and lauding Daly and other moderate-to-conservative Democrats such as Daly’s assistant (and Anaheim City Council hopeful) Jordan Brandman at the DPOC’s holiday party; more recently and significantly, Perez’s 10-to-1 slaughtering of Daly (and 20-to-1 of Martinez) in the Orange County Young Democrats endorsement.

The Ideological Factor

The Labor-funded (and presumably Perez-sympathetic) Voice of OC posted a particularly good article yesterday on the goings-on behind the race.  (Yes, you do have to read the whole thing.)  Two details for you to note before anything else: while Barbaro, Solorio, and State Senator Lou Correa have endorsed Daly — and Solorio has also endorsed Martinez and might have to restrain himself from endorsing Republican extremist Robert Hammond if he should somehow make the runoff against Perez — only Barbaro is pushing for an endorsement of Daly.  Solorio and Correa are pushing the Democrats to make no endorsement — just as Barbaro did (with minimal success) at the Young Democrats meeting.  So one possible inference to be made is: Perez seems to have a shot at winning tomorrow’s endorsement.  <strike>Given that a 60%  margin is required, if Perez is close to an endorsement, then probably no one else is anywhere near it.</strike>  [Saturday Update: No, it turns out that it’s 50%+1, so ignore that “possible inference.  I misread Brian Leubitz’s column in Calitics while preparing the story.]

The backstory that Voice of OC presents is one of both generational and ideological battle.  (Disclosure made: I’m party of these battles, on the side of the younger and more progressive faction, but I’m going to try to write this from as objective a standpoint as I can.  Objective isn’t the same as “neutral,” though; facts may incline an observer in one or another direction.)

On the one hand, you have either the “Old Guard” or the “moderates” (or, by some lights, the conservatives) — Barbaro, Correa, Daly, and Solorio (who is actually younger than I am.)  As the Voice says:  “Both Correa and Solorio call themselves ‘pro-job’ Democrats, and they say their constituents want things like enterprise zones, which offer tax incentives in specific areas for employers to hire workers.”

On the other side, you have the “reformers” or progressives/liberals such as Perez, Orange County Labor Federation head Tefere Gebre, and the Orange County Employees Association’s  Nick Berardino (who, for those who want to make the story generational, is no spring chicken himself.)  Both sides would style themselves as Labor-friendly, but looking at their affiliations above it’s clear that there’s a difference between “aligned with the movement” and “of the movement.”

See if you can catch the flavor of the dispute simply from the quotes offered in Voice of OC’s story:

“We’re just finally calling people out. … Are you with the 99 percent or the 1 percent? You can’t straddle the middle anymore.”

“In the 69th, you’ve got to be more middle-of-the-road.”

“”We don’t think so anymore.  We are inserting a soul into the party, we’re not leaving the party. “The old days are over.”

That’s a spliced-together mock conversation between Gebre and Barbaro.  Or try this one:

“As an elected official, as a candidate, my goal has been to support the voters, not a special interest group. I don’t look at scorecards to guide my votes.  I look at the needs of my constituency.  I’ve only been living in this district for 50 years. Every time I go to church, I look at my constituents in their eyes. They just finished electing me by the biggest margin of my career.”

“This county has changed.  America is gripped by a recession skyrocketing unemployment and the greatest shift of wealth in the nation’s history. So I think the assessment that the district remains moderate does not reflect the rapid change of attitude of working Americans.  The party and elected officials have got to be a much louder voice for the growing number of Americans who have been pummeled by this extensive economic tragedy.”

Those quotes are from Correa and then Berardino.  Here’s a final juxtaposed “conversation”:

“I’m up here with a job focus.  That means on some tough votes, I’m going to go with the side that creates jobs.  Interest group politics in Sacramento are interesting. Labor, environmentalists, trial attorneys, they want people to be 100 percent, and guess what? In the real world, there are disagreements. Sometimes you need a compromise.”

“I don’t believe that tax credits for major corporations create jobs. They should be doing more for mom-and-pop businesses.  Is Disneyland going to move anywhere?”

And that right there tells you a major difference between Solorio (top quote) and Perez.

It’s a very interesting time to be a Democrat in Orange County.  The power between the factions of the party seems to be shifting.  The Democratic successes in the county outside of its Santa Ana core — the City Council and School Board in Irvine, but also individual victors from South County to West County to the Northwest — have by and large not had all that much to do, in recent years, with the central Party.  Candidates in Fullerton and La Habra, Huntington Beach and Costa Mesa, Irvine and South County, who have managed to build a following have tended to be reformers — and, more than that, to cultivate their own constituencies independently.

I don’t want to get too deeply into the state of the County Party here — most readers can make up their own minds about the degree to which its dearth of recent successes (outside of successful campaigns to retain Sanchez and Correa) is due to a tough situation or to not making the most of it —  but one thing that’s clear is that the Old Guard of the party may have lost some of its grip.  In a well-oiled political machine, Tom Daly — stolid and experienced — ought to be a shoo-in compared to the brash and brilliant Julio Perez.  (Well, except for the topic raised in the next section, that is.)  And yet two of the few major groups in the party that do seem to have the ability to make noise — (most of) the union movement and the Young Democrats — have already gone in deeply for Perez.  Does this portend a significant shift in county Democratic politics?

We might find out the answer tomorrow.  But  also might  find out the answer to another question as well — or instead.

The Race and Ethnicity Question

If you ask pretty much anyone within the party what Democrats need to do to win elections in Orange County, part of the answer will probably be this: reach, register, and activate the Latino community.  Latinos vote far less than their competitors — my favorite statistic in the last election is that in winning her Congressional seat Loretta Sanchez got fewer votes not only than perennial underfunded leftist Christina Avalos received against Ed Royce, but also fewer than underfunded liberal Ken Arnold received against Dana Rohrabacher in just the Orange County portion of his district.  Over the next decade, building up the Latino vote is critical to the party’s success.

(That success, by the way, is measured not only in local candidacies and issues, but in statewide offices — had Kamala Harris lost, it would have been largely due to Democratic weakness in Orange County, especially outside of the sparsely voting central sector — and in statewide initiatives.  Orange County has been where bad propositions come to feed and good propositions go to die; building up Latino interest and activism is key to reversing that.)

And AD-69 is not just one of the most Latino legislative districts by population in California, it is the most Latino district.  Latinos were packed into the district specifically to give it a “CVAP” — percentage of citizens of voting age population (thus eliminating children and non-citizens, of which the Latino population has disproportionately many) — of over 50%.  With decent voter registration, and relative unity, Latinos should be able to control the fate of this chicken-shaped district, just as ethnic groups have been able to do all over the country.  Often that means electing someone of the race or ethnicity; often it also means electing someone who shares the dominant ideology.

So that raises a somewhat delicate question: is taking the most Latino legislative district in California and putting it in the hands of a moderate-to-conservative non-Hispanic Caucasian Democrat the way to do it?  Or is it an insult?

It’s a legitimate question — and the answer is not obvious.  Maxine Waters represents a Latino-dominated district in Los Angeles County and is generally considered to do a fine job, given her focus on issues of class.  Steven Cohen of Memphis, Tennessee represents a largely Black community and has fought off hard challenges from Black politicians because they apparently feel that he does a great and honest job.  Asians represent white-dominated districts and vice-versa.  Neither race nor ideology are clear determiners of who can “do the job” for, especially, a historically subordinate group.

And, yet: AD-69 is the most Latino of any district in California.  (Did I already mention that?)  Its last three Assembly representatives have been Correa, Tom Umberg, and Solorio, none of them economically liberal.  (“Enterprise zones” are a trickle-down idea that largely turn out to benefit political cronies.  That’s good if you’re a politician who wants large donations; not so good if you want more jobs.)  Barbaro expresses the belief that one must be moderate to win in AD-69, from which, if true, support for Daly follows.   But, seriously, the second person in the runoff besides Daly (if he makes it) is going to be either a Latino Democrat or hapless Robert Hammond.  Is Barbaro truly concerned that Perez or Martinez (or even Barragan) is going to lose to Hammond?

Another alternative explanation for the moderates’ position that moderation — which in this case also means the white candidate — is necessary is that it reflects their own policy preferences, period.  It’s a lot easier to court the wealthy for a piece of the pie than to take on the system itself.  Perhaps party moderates want the sort of high-donor-who-wants-something situation because it suits them: they get campaign contributions and don’t have to worry about getting into trouble back home if, like Correa and Solorio, they do their best to undercut consumer-oriented efforts like the attempt to regulate health insurance.  (It also keeps expectations nice and low.)

There is, most likely, a place where that sort of conservative, business-oriented Democrat is needed — much of the South and the Mountain Time Zone, for example.  It’s not clear that the new AD-69 is such a place.  It’s far from clear that running a conservative Democrat is also worth the risk of being taken to tell a key part of the Democratic coalition that they don’t really much matter — something that moderates would never say to the business community.

Here’s the quandary that Democrats in Region 16 will face tomorrow: if the Democratic Party wants more Latinos to vote, what inducement does it owe them in the district that was literally drawn to serve their interests, their hopes for self-representation?  A Latino (or Latina) candidate with a populist economic message of this economically pressed community obviously fits the bill.  Another non-Latino who favors funneling money to private industry in the hope that it might trickle down to street level does not.  Giving voters the possible prospect of a Daly vs. Hammond runoff in AD-69 would probably be perceived as a slap in the face — and for good reason.

Many days in the history of Orange County Democratic politics are sort of boring.  Tomorrow, though, will be very interesting — and even possibly a sea change for the party.

UPDATE (7:45 a.m. Saturday): OK, a little more on Martinez.  Voice of OC reports on the response of the Pala Band of Mission Indians spokesperson to the reports of Martinez’s alleged train-tweets.  To call it “chilly” is an understatement; click the link if you’re prepared to cringe.  The problem for Martinez is that other potential IE’s are watching — and now it’s more likely that no one is going to want to spend on her behalf in the race, because being found to have done so will, fairly or not, invite the inference that they coordinated with her.  I find it a bit depressing — I didn’t want Martinez to win, but I was hoping for an outcome that was a little less ignominious than this looks likely to be.


About Greg Diamond

Somewhat verbose attorney, semi-retired due to disability, residing in northwest Brea. Occasionally runs for office against bad people who would otherwise go unopposed. Got 45% of the vote against Bob Huff for State Senate in 2012; Josh Newman then won the seat in 2016. In 2014 became the first attorney to challenge OCDA Tony Rackauckas since 2002; Todd Spitzer then won that seat in 2018. Every time he's run against some rotten incumbent, the *next* person to challenge them wins! He's OK with that. Corrupt party hacks hate him. He's OK with that too. He does advise some local campaigns informally and (so far) without compensation. (If that last bit changes, he will declare the interest.)