(It is Election Day! We’ll have result coverage tonight! And please note that my promoting this should not be seen as an endorsement, I’m just a junkie for great diaries and Election Days.-blogswarm; Also, don’t forget to check out Long Beach’s local blogs, LB Post and LB Report, for the latest on the special election today. Oh yes, and thanks, Major, for visiting our humble blog! : ) – promoted by atdleft)
X-post to Daily Kos, with scant revision.
I have a horse in the CA-37 race today.
In 1980, I became the editor of Cal State Long Beach’s alternative newspaper, then called the Union Daily. The University President was then Steve Horn, a moderate Republican who later represented Long Beach in Congress. The Student Body President was a young (though a little older than me) Latina woman named Jenny Oropeza. She was planning an unprecedented (at The Beach) run for re-election. A few weeks into my tenure, she sized me up, let me know her plans, and asked me if the paper would be endorsing and, if so, where she stood.
I was a new kid in town, but I’d done my homework on her. I knew that Jenny was considered bright, liberal, ambitious, organized, hardworking, and a real fighter. Given political power, she had done what one has to do in office to earn further trust. I /think/ I managed not to tip my hand that day, but I already had a good sense that I’d ultimately endorse her, even against what turned out to be an also-impressive opponent.
I do so today for the same reasons. I don’t live in CA-37, but if I did I’d vote for Jenny. If you live there, I hope you’ll support her. My take on the race follows.
From what I can tell, the race for the seat left vacant by the death of Rep. Juanita Millender-McDonald is generally considered to be a two-person race: between Jenny, a current state Senator and former state Assemblywoman, and Laura Richardson, a Black woman who was elected to Jenny’s former Assembly seat. (See here for a piquant comparison of their official websites by the LA Times blog.) Both also previously served on the Long Beach City Council.
Two other candidates appear to get some mention: Valerie Millender-McDonald, the former Rep’s daughter and a political neophyte, and Pete Mathews, an apparently Kucinichesque Poli Sci professor at Cal State Fullerton. My understanding is that neither is considered to be in any danger of getting the most votes among Democrats. (The runoff election will not include the top two vote-getters, but the top vote-getter in each party. No Republican is seen as having a chance of winning in this district, so today’s race will decide the next Member.) I’ll therefore restrict my comments to Oropeza and Richardson. Both are anti-war-funding, both support impeachment (though from the newspaper account, a bit cautiously), and both reject Valerie Millender-McDonald’s “culturally conservative positions on gay marriage and immigration” — quite unlike her mother’s — which she’s using to try to take votes away from Richardson in the Black community. The gay community seems largely behind Oropeza, partly due to her longstanding support (which was evident even in 1980) and partly due to longstanding anger against what some feel was an anti-gay Assembly campaign run by Richardson in 1996.
This is an unpleasant race in a lot of ways, and has received note for two major reasons: race and independent expenditures. I’ll dip into (mostly) reporting mode here for a bit (while referring people to this Calitics diary by our own dday and to previous diaries here and here on this site, as well as stories from The Hill and other Googlicious sites.)
The role of race
California is growing increasingly Latino, and that trend is evident in CA-37. What was once a majority-Black area is now plurality-Latino, by a 43-25 margin over Blacks, although Blacks retain a voter registration advantage of 25-23%, according to The Hill. This is one of four House seats that until the incumbent’s death was held by Black representatives from California, the others being Barbara Lee and Southern Californians Maxine Waters (a Richardson supporter) and Diane Watson (at least initially a Millender-McDonald supporter.) The Black Caucus is, understandably, loathe to give up one of its few California seats. And yet the demographic trends clearly favor Latino representation for this area soon, even if not today.
Based on the reporting I’ve read (see, e.g., the comments in dday’s diary), Richardson has been appealing directly to racial solidarity, along the lines of “I’m one of you, a member of the community” if not explicitly “don’t vote for her, she’s Latina,” as one paraphrase goes.
As a Caucasian, I might be best off staying out of this discussion entirely, but (of course) as a Democrat I can’t. (For what it’s worth, Oropeza and Richardson each have a Caucasian mother. As did I.) I can make a case that if would be good if a Latina took the seat (Latino representation in Congress overall lags far behind Black representation, proportionally, this district is going to be a Latino-majority one before long, and we need strong Latino advocates in Congress to fight immigrant-bashing), or that a Black woman should keep it. (Blacks are understandably concerned about the shrinking of their proportion of the electorate, and the Congressional Black Caucus has been a source of some of the most dynamic progressive activity in Congress over the years, making its “holding the seat” sentimentally appealing.) But I’d /like/ not to have to make either case; there are good arguments on both sides, but the better argument is for not even having the argument over what race “deserves” the seat. The Black-Brown racial divide is going to loom increasingly large in the years to come and threatens Democratic unity; that inclines me towards whichever candidate is /not/ apparently trying to win by narrow appeals to racial solidarity. While multiracial coalitions are dicey, California has had some success at maintaining them, and that cooperation is critical. From what I’ve read, even if I were starting as neutral, Richardson’s racial appeals for votes would incline me towards Oropeza.
The issue driving contributions in the race is, perhaps oddly, Indian gaming. And the best reporting came from our own dday. He’ll have to elaborate if and when he sees this, but the issue is Oropeza’s support in the State Senate fora bill approving
gaming compacts that would triple the number of slot machines at the Morongo casino, without allowing casino workers full ability to organize and collectively bargain. The compacts would also not offer much in the way of oversight into casino finances, which in a way is the whole point, since the state is supposed to receive 15-25% of the proceeds from the new slot machines, but may not be able to determine what those proceeds are.
As a result of this, and apparently of hostility towards the Assembly for not approving these compacts, the Morongo Tribe (which runs an out-of-district casino with really irritating TV commercials) has poured $270,000 in independent expenditures into the race on Oropeza’s behalf. I have no reason to believe that there was improper coordination between the Oropeza campaign and the tribe, let alone a quid pro quo regarding the vote; rather, it looks like the Morongo Tribe is sending a high-profile message to other politicians about the benefits of supporting and detriments of opposing their interests. I don’t blame Oropeza for what her independent supports are doing, and for all I know the influx of tribal money may backfire.
The legitimate basis for concern here would be that Labor opposes these compacts, which is why Labor supports Richardson. I find this a complex issue. States need money, voters hate taxes, and that means politicians look for novel sources of income. These gaming compacts seem like an unpleasant option at best, especially given that they don’t provide an appropriate boost for Labor, but for all I know all of the other options for raising revenue were worse. Without more knowledge of what the tradeoffs, promises, and alternatives facing Senators were, this doesn’t weigh heavily against Oropeza in my book. I expect that, in any event, she’ll be a strong advocate for Labor in Congress.
Why I’d vote for Jenny
1) I really dislike ham-handed campaigning
One thing I’d like to see in a new member of Congress is the ability to do thorough research in running a campaign and to operate with some finesse. That’s why this story drove me up a tree. A mailer from Richardson’s campaign attacks Oropeza because she “was absent for 137 days and missed many critical votes on issues affecting the health and safety of California’s children.”
What the mailer doesn’t note is that the six-year period in question includes a period in late 2004/early 2005 during which Jenny was battling liver cancer.
In fall 2004, then-Assemblywoman Oropeza underwent seven hours of surgery to remove an inch-thick malignant tumor on her liver, followed by week-long chemotherapy sessions with a final treatment in mid-March 2005, her office said at the time. In mid-April 2005, her office said Assemblywoman Oropeza was declared free of any traces of cancer.
Richardson’s mailer is beyond bad taste. Jenny’s fight against cancer was consuming and her victory against it is inspiring. To turn it into this sort of cheap trick — well, it’s beneath contempt, and if Richardson personally directed or knew about it, to me that’s decisive.
There are two possibilities here: someone was stupid or evil. Either the people behind the mailer didn’t know that Jenny was missing work because of cancer treatment — highly unlikely — or they are trying to take advantage of voter ignorance. Imagine a campaign ad attacking Sen. Tim Johnson for his absenteeism, which doesn’t mention his brain surgery. That’s how I feel about this campaign mailer. I looked for any indication of an apology or disavowal of the mailer; I didn’t find any.
2) Based on my personal knowledge of her, I trust her
It is possible that had I attended college with Laura Richardson rather than Jenny Oropeza, I’d be supporting the former. But, frankly, the odds are against it. Few people in my college’s student government had the earmarks of someone who would continue on to success in politics; most of them are not people I’d endorse. Yet Jenny was always clearly on a track towards high public service, and despite that she somehow failed to disgust me. Her motives towards public service were good — constituency-serving rather than self-serving. While Jenny and I disagreed at times about various policies, she was someone I’d trust to represent my interests, and someone whose heart was in the right place. Beyond that, she’ll be a real battler in Congress — and we all know that we need that.
That’s more than enough for me to endorse her in this race, without serious reservation. However you decide to vote, I hope you’ll come out and vote if you can: the larger the turnout, the more authority the winning candidate will have to speak out in Congress. And that’s something we can all agree is all to the good.