Things Aren’t so Bad for California Under the Electoral College

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts, thinks that populous coastal states like California and New York are being done a grave disservice by the Electoral College. Warren recently bemoaned the fact that presidential candidates ignore these populous, but safely blue, states in favor of battleground states. That’s why she thinks we should supersede the Electoral College with a national popular vote to determine who holds the White House.

But do candidates ignore these states under our current system? Hardly. In fact, Hillary Clinton visited California nearly 70 times over the course of her 2016 campaign. By comparison, Clinton made only seven visits to Michigan – a state she narrowly lost to Donald Trump. Democratic front-runner Joe Biden has already hosted fundraisers in the Bay Area and Los Angeles and is currently planning a tour of New York. Moreover, in 2016, both presidential candidates set up their campaign headquarters in New York City.

Blue, coastal cities will always enjoy political influence because they are the cultural and economic hubs of our country. Financial institutions, tech companies, and media conglomerates – the supermajority of which are located in New York or California – will always have an entrée to the Oval Office. Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos, and Bob Iger are not the “forgotten men” even if they don’t live in swing states.

Coastal meccas are also where most wealthy campaign donors reside. Of the 100 top individual donors in the 2016 election cycle, over half live in one of four metropolitan areas: New York (26 percent), San Francisco (13 percent), Los Angeles (8 percent), and Chicago (6 percent).

Progressives may retort that, despite the frequent trips presidential candidates take to California and New York, they never see the plight, nor hear the concerns, of ordinary San Franciscans, Angelinos, or New Yorkers. During trips to the Bay Area and Manhattan, presidential candidates are hobnobbing at cocktail parties and swanky dinners, not pressing the flesh at greasy spoons and discount shopping stores.

While not all candidate visits are aimed at the same segment of the population, if the Electoral College were replaced with a national popular vote, every candidate’s campaign would focus on the same few zip codes. If winning an election was a simple matter of garnering the most votes nationwide, candidates would naturally focus their attention on the limited number of locations where the most voters live – namely, major cities.

Electoral campaigns simply do not have the time or the money to visit every part of the country; states with neither big donors, nor sprawling cities, would be left out. It is anyone’s guess how long voters in so-called “fly-over country” would be content to watch presidential candidates race by overhead, but they will inevitably start to feel that Washington, D.C., is hopelessly out of touch and alien.

While progressives ignore the negative consequences of a national popular vote, they greatly exaggerate the positive impact on voters in coastal states like California. It is unlikely that voters in Bakersfield or San Bernardino, Redding or Rio Linda would see any more of presidential candidates than they do now. If state borders no longer mattered in presidential elections, it is unlikely candidates would spend any time in rural – or even suburban – areas.

Under the Electoral College, presidential candidates journey to nearly every corner of hotly contested swing states. Even populous states like Ohio or Pennsylvania can be thoroughly canvassed over the course of a campaign and, knowing that a handful of voters can swing all of a state’s Electoral College votes, most presidential candidates do exactly this. So in these swing states, it is equally common to see presidential aspirants at rural coffee shops and industrial plants, suburban town halls, and metropolitan stadiums. With the national popular vote, a loop around the BART or Metrolink would become the 21st century version of the old whistle-stop tour.

No electoral system will force presidential candidates to visit all 3,000 counties in the country. But our current system ensures that the few cities that already shape our economy and culture do not thoroughly dominate our electoral politics as well.

The Electoral College gives a voice to broad regions of the country that might otherwise be ignored and unheard. Indeed, our mode of electing presidents is not just a boon for the forgotten men and women of the Rust Belt and Bible Belt, but for voters in central California and upstate New York, with which they have much in common.

John W. York is a policy analyst at The Heritage Foundation.

Politicians don’t deserve your hard-earned money

Pension moneyIt must be getting to the end of June. My junk and regular email boxes are filled with pleas from various political organizations and candidates begging for money prior to the end of the reporting period. Apparently, once the calendar reaches July 1st, politicians turn into pumpkins and must report their contributions for the world to see.

For California gubernatorial candidate Gavin Newsom this means:

Gavin needs to hit a big goal before the public filing deadline – and we were making progress, but now membership numbers are coming to a halt. This is the worst possible time to see a drop-off like this. Gavin’s numbers go public soon and reporters will pick them apart. Opponents will look for weaknesses.

We have the chance right now to elect Gavin and blow past the nonsense in Washington. We will make sure every Californian has health care and affordable education. We will take smart climate action and defend immigrant families. But we can ONLY do this if you chip in to hit this goal. Time’s running out, so a group of donors has agreed to match every dollar you give now to help Gavin.

Newsom isn’t alone in his plea for funds that more resembles Cinderella’s curfew than what we see in the real world of politics: Scott Walker asked me to open up my check book to further the conservative cause for the same reason. A group just contacted me who warned of the threat Senator Elizabeth Warren posed.

With the health care debate at the forefront of American politics, Democrats have come out in force to expand Obamacare. This alarming email was received which said:

Senator Elizabeth Warren thinks she knows what is right for all Californians: single payer health care. The Democrats don’t want you to think for yourself, and Elizabeth Warren is taking her radical agenda and bringing it to the front door of California.

The Senator from Massachusetts was quoted in the San Diego Union Tribune as saying: “Now it’s time for the next step. And the next step is single payer.” The solicitation concluded: It is important that you help stop Elizabeth Warren from forcing her ideals onto the people of California. Donate today and keep Warren out of CA.

Even House Majority Leader Paul Ryan has entered the fray saying:

Not only have we secured these policy wins, but we’ve also had incredible results with the special elections. So let’s add one more victory to our list by closing out the month with a strong FEC report. Chip in $50 right now. Because we need to finish strong, I am triple matching every donation made to House Republicans before midnight tomorrow.

In evaluating these pleas for cash, I have to ask the obvious question, what have you done for me lately?

In the case of Gavin Newsom, the prospect of having sanctuary cities, free education and single payer health insurance for the entire state – including illegal aliens – is what he offers. The only thing that scares me more than this agenda is figuring out how to pay for it. Apparently there won’t be enough money left from Newsom’s campaign fund to take care of any of his social programs.

In the same vein I’m not sure my donations will do much to stop Elizabeth Warren’s invasion of my state to impose her health care ideas down my throat. Unless money collected was to be used as a bribe to thwart the senator from Massachusetts from invading my turf, purchasing lottery tickets would seem to be a better investment for me.

As for Paul Ryan it would be difficult for me to send him my hard earned dollars because other than winning a few special elections, what has Congress accomplished the past several months? Most of their energy has been spent on ridiculous Russian investigations that are likely to be headed in the direction to the “stairway to heaven” school of politics.

Hey dude! Take care of fixing Obamacare and pass some tax reform legislation before you ask me to spring for more contributions.

And for my own Congressman Mark De Saulnier, D-Concord, who just sent an urgent message:

We are one day away from a critical fundraising deadline. Unfortunately, we’re falling short of our goal this quarter. This is my least favorite part of the job, but I have to ask for your help.

Fundraising allows me to keep fighting for you in Congress, where I’m trying to do my part to elect more Democrats. I need your help to continue doing my job, and to help my vulnerable colleagues keep their jobs. We’re doing everything we can to protect healthcare, women’s rights and living wages. There’s too much at stake to lose any seats in 2018.

All I can say, Mark, is that it is difficult to send money to an individual who has never had a viable opponent for occupying a seat in the House of Representatives. For what you are doing in constantly following the coat tails of Nancy Pelosi in Trump bashing, and not working with the Republican majority, giving you additional cash seems to be a waste of money.

If you are not going to interact with Republicans, at least get some pork barrel projects for the district which might create jobs and opportunity for us unlucky stiffs who are living in the boondocks. I don’t care if you are a Democrat or a Republican. Just get something done for your constituents who Congress has failed.

One last footnote for Gavin and all the others. Why would anyone other than a lobbyist or political hack care how much money has been donated to a campaign when the reporting period comes to a conclusion?

Has our democratic system of government sunk to such a low level that we would want to eliminate candidates for public office because they would not have enough funding to effectively compete? Talk about a lesson of elitism in action? This is an awful concept. Gag me with a spoon!

To the whole lot of you both Democrats and Republicans; don’t ask me to give money to your damn political campaigns. All you do is to fulfill Hunter Thompson’s immortal words, “When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.” As the 4th of July approaches, take a flying leap away from me.

Golden State Democrats Divide Over Race

The California Republican Party—an institution accustomed to embarrassment—suffered a novel and stinging indignity in the June 7 Golden State primary. Once the votes were tallied, it was revealed that the GOP’s candidate for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Democrat Barbara Boxer in the November election would be . . . nobody. It’s not that Republicans failed to recruit any contenders. Two former (and relatively obscure) state party chairmen, Tom Del Beccaro and Duf Sundheim, competed in the primary, as did activist businessman and one-time gubernatorial candidate Ron Unz. Rocky Chavez, a state assemblyman from San Diego County who led the GOP field in early polling, had also been in the mix before abruptly withdrawing—at the beginning of a debate, no less—in February. So how does a party enter a race with four candidates and still emerge without a nominee?

Like most riddles associated with California politics, the answer is direct democracy. In 2010, voters approved Proposition 14, a ballot measure that abolished conventional party primaries for statewide and congressional races. Instead, the initiative created a system wherein primary voters get to cast their ballot for any candidate, regardless of party—but where only the top two finishers compete in the general election. This year, that process yielded a U.S. Senate contest between two Democrats: Attorney General Kamala Harris and Orange County congresswoman Loretta Sanchez.

Among California’s political and media elite, the result is being discussed mainly as a sign of the GOP’s irrelevance in the nation’s most populous state—a reading with plenty of evidence to support it. Higher office has now been out of the party’s grasp for a decade, with Arnold Schwarzenegger’s 2006 reelection as governor marking the last time that a Republican won any statewide contest.

Democrat DonkeyYet, while public attention is focused on the GOP’s deathbed vigil, another equally consequential trend is unfolding largely under the radar: California Democrats, far from enjoying a frictionless ascendancy, are finding themselves sharply divided along racial lines. The breakneck demographic shifts in the state over the past few decades partly explain the tension. In 1990, California was more than 57 percent white, while Latinos made up just over a quarter of the state’s population. By 2014, however, Latinos had surpassed whites as the state’s largest ethnic group. At the same time, the state’s Asian population (the nation’s largest) had grown to 14.4 percent, more than double the number of California’s African-Americans. In a minority-majority state dominated by a party that practices identity politics, each group now finds itself in a zero-sum competition for a handful of positions at the commanding heights of Golden State politics.

Those spots don’t come open very often, making competition that much fiercer. Boxer and her Senate colleague Dianne Feinstein were both first elected to the upper chamber in 1992, a time when California was, in demographic terms, an entirely different place. They’re not the only members of California’s governing class who seem like relics of a bygone era. While the state’s population is ethnically diverse and young (in 2014 the median age was 36, sixth-lowest in the nation), its most visible political figures—Boxer, Feinstein, Governor Jerry Brown, and House minority leader Nancy Pelosi—are lily white and have an average age of nearly 78.

When Boxer announced her retirement in early 2015, it unleashed a frenzy of activity among California Democrats aiming to make their leadership more reflective of the party’s diversity. The problem was that no one could agree on exactly how to fulfill that mandate. Certainly Harris, born to a Jamaican father and an Indian mother, represented a break from the past. But the swiftness with which she attracted endorsements led to a backlash from Latinos, who felt they were being taken for granted. When the attorney general garnered near-instant backing from influential national Democrats such as Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker, California State Senate president pro tem Kevin de Leon told Politico,“National figures should slow their roll a bit.” Arturo Vargas, head of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, cautioned, “Hispanic leaders are concerned about some kind of coronation, as opposed to a real electoral campaign.”

The coronation, however, largely proceeded apace. Harris’s substantial war chest and stack of endorsements deterred some of the state’s most prominent Latinos—namely former Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and House Democratic Caucus chairman Xavier Becerra—from mounting a challenge. Sanchez, previously more of a comic figure than a serious political force (her main contribution to California politics has been a series of increasingly bizarre Christmas cards featuring her cat), exploited the vacuum for a Latino alternative, riding the discontent all the way to a spot on the November ballot.

Most observers—though not all—expect Harris to prevail in November, but the underlying tensions show little sign of abating. In May, Texas Democratic congressman Filemon Vela blasted the California Democratic Party for endorsing Harris, calling the act “insulting to Latinos all throughout this country” and “a disrespectful example of wayward institutional leadership which on the one hand ‘wants our vote’ but on the other hand wants to ‘spit us out.’” California Hispanics may share that sentiment. Though Harris won 40.3 percent of the vote to Sanchez’s 18.5 percent in the primary, a USC/Los Angeles Times poll released shortly before the contest showed 43 percent of Hispanics supporting Sanchez to just 16 percent for Harris.

Status anxiety is now pervasive among the racial caucuses within California’s Democratic Party. Hispanics worry that their votes will be taken for granted, while their elected officials are passed over for higher office. African-Americans, outnumbered two-to-one by Asians and six-to-one by Hispanics, fret that they’ll be relegated to junior-partner status within the party. Asians, meanwhile, chafe at certain liberal orthodoxies—a tension that became public in 2014 when a small band of Asian Democrats in the legislature blocked their black and Hispanic colleagues’ efforts to revive racial preferences in California college admissions.

Intra-party friction, of course, isn’t exclusive to California. However, with the Republican Party in steep decline in the state and the top-two primary system as the law of the land, the situation in California is particularly combustible. California Democrats have long dreamed of the unfettered power that would accompany vanquishing the state’s rump Republican Party. Few, however, seemed to anticipate the stress fractures that inevitably emerge in a political monoculture. With no worlds left to conquer, they’re now left warily circling each other. And no one seems inclined to slow his roll.