Blue Wave: Mostly Yes / Sidebar

By Michael D. Evans

Although there were many questions leading into the 2018 election, the primary one centered on whether we would see a Blue Wave, that is, a solid movement toward Democrats. For the most part, that is exactly what played out.

Progressive interests fared well in this election. And the people of the Central Valley benefited from renewed attention to pressing regional issues from newly elected legislators at every level of government.

            The Democrats might gain as many as 40 seats in the House of Representatives once the counting is complete. That is the biggest gain for Democrats since the 1974 midterm election, which occurred only a few months after Republican President Richard Nixon resigned. Orange County (Orange freaking County!), longtime bastion of Reagan conservatism, has gone entirely blue.

            That’s the good news. Unfortunately, Democrats were unable to take back the Senate and, in fact, lost ground there. So in terms of the national landscape, we have a band-aid. It is now possible to deter President Donald Trump’s worst tendencies and for Democrats to put forth a progressive agenda (even though it will not be approved by the Senate), but Trump can continue his assault on judicial responsibility because those appointments are approved only by the Senate. But critically, we saved democracy for at least two more years.

            It is imperative that the new House start passing legislation to improve our country. Put the burden on the Senate and Trump to reject popular, common-sense policies. Second, it is critical that the House move forward with investigations of the “swamp” in Washington. Trump has advocated getting rid of the swamp, and we should take him up on that.

            Part of the reason we are in this mess is because Nixon did not go to jail for his infractions and the Democrats when taking back Congress in 2006 decided not to investigate the improprieties of the George W. Bush administration. We cannot make those mistakes again.

            The House must prioritize stopping the kidnapping and imprisoning of families at the border, bolstering the Affordable Care Act and shifting it toward universal healthcare, implementing comprehensive immigration reform, passing a massive infrastructure package, protecting the Environmental Protection Agency and restoring the complete Voting Rights Act, among others.

Federal

Incumbent U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D–San Francisco) was reelected after holding off Democratic challenger Kevin de Leon. De Leon, however, won Fresno County. Because of the open primary in California, Republicans were shut out of this race. Feinstein, long considered a moderate, visibly moved to the left during the campaign given this challenge from the progressive wing of the party. In fact, de Leon had received the California Democratic Party’s endorsement instead of Feinstein, a stunning rebuke of an incumbent.

            Four Congressional districts that cross into Fresno County, and the outcome of three of those races had been determined as of our press deadline. In District 16, incumbent Rep. Jim Costa (D–Fresno) was reelected. Costa had a difficult time in the previous two midterm elections, but this year he had a comfortable lead on Election Night and won easily. Costa’s team ran an aggressive ground campaign that energized voters in the district. His challenger, Republican Elizabeth Heng, focused on creative negativity that failed to generate substantial interest in her campaign.

            In District 4, Jessica Morse lost to Rep. Tom McClintock (R–Elk Grove) but cut the margin from a 25-percentage-point Democratic loss in 2016 to less than 10 percentage points. Her campaign was supported by Sierra Forward, a coordinated effort among the numerous Democratic county parties in the district.

            In District 21, the race was called for incumbent Rep. David Valadao (R–Hanford) by most pundits on Election Night. However, with the counting of vote-by-mail and provisional ballots, Democratic challenger T.J. Cox has closed the gap significantly and the race is too close to call. Hillary Clinton won the district in 2016, and there is a 17-percentage-point Democratic registration advantage, therefore the outcome comes down to turnout. Democratic turnout in the Fresno and Kern county portions of the district appears to be up considerably from the last midterm cycle.

            In the highest-profile local race, with national interest and implications, Assistant District Attorney Andrew Janz set a fund-raising record for a Democrat in the Central Valley and put together a hugely impressive campaign, with much thanks to his campaign manager, Heather Greven. But the district is just too Republican, and he fell short. But, as in the Morse district, he cut the usual margin from 25 percentage points to less than 10. Because incumbent Rep. Devin Nunes (R–Tulare) has been in the national news for problematic activity for the better part of the past two years, Janz was able to generate interest among funders and volunteers from throughout the country. The campaign had busloads of volunteers coming from the coast in the last few weeks of the campaign. Nunes flooded the district with direct mail pieces, and Janz held his own in that regard. The oddest piece from Nunes was a 40-page tirade mostly against the Fresno Bee. Nunes is clearly unstable.

Statewide

Most of the statewide races were yawners. The Democrats have held all the statewide constitutional offices since 2010, and the Republicans have mostly given up on trying to be competitive in those races. Incumbent Gavin Newsom was elected governor, Eleni Kounalakis defeated fellow Democrat Ed Hernandez for lieutenant governor, incumbent Attorney General appointee Xavier Becerra was elected outright, and current Board of Equalization member Fiona Ma was elected state treasurer. Reelected were Betty Yee as state controller and Alex Padilla as secretary of state.

            Because of their irrelevance in statewide races, Republicans tried a couple of different strategies this time. In the race for insurance commissioner, Steve Poizner changed his registration from Republican to No Party Preference assuming that would improve his chances of election. Although the ploy did significantly improve the vote total relative to what he would have gotten with an “R” beside his name, Democrat Ricardo Lara was still able to pull out the victory. Lara put forward SB 562, the effort to provide single-payer healthcare for all Californians.

            The other ploy occurred in the race for state superintendent of public instruction. In this race, the candidate supporting Republican values, Marshall Tuck, ran as a Democrat. Tuck is an aggressive charter school advocate and outraised true Democrat Tony Thurmond by tens of millions because of contributions from charter school interests. Nevertheless, Thurmond prevailed.

            For Board of Equalization District 1, Democrat Tom Hallinan lost to Republican Ted Gaines. In this low-profile race, for a district that extends from the Oregon border to the Inland Empire, neither candidate appeared to have campaigned in the Central Valley.

State Legislature

Three State Senate and two State Assembly districts represent Fresno County. Republicans held all three State Senate seats leading into the election but were only able to protect one of them.

            Fresno County Supervisor Andreas Borgeas won Senate District 8, defeating Democrat Paulina Miranda to take the seat being vacated by Tom Berryhill, who termed out. Borgeas won convincingly in the heavily Republican district. The replacement for Borgeas’ Fresno County Board of Supervisors seat will be determined through a special election early next year.

            In Senate District 12, for which Republican Anthony Cannella was stepping down due to term limits, current Assembly Member Anna Caballero (D–Salinas) held off Republican Rob Poythress, a Madera County supervisor. Poythress ran one of the most negative campaigns ever seen in the Central Valley. Ads villainizing Caballero flooded the airwaves the last month of the election. The district includes portions of Fresno County west of Highway 99 and goes from the central coast north to Stanislaus County.

            In Senate District 14, Democrat Melissa Hurtado, currently a Sanger City Council member, upset incumbent Andy Vidak (R–Hanford). Hurtado, who has considerable experience as a community activist, benefited from close collaboration with the Andrew Janz and T.J. Cox Congressional campaigns and Magdalena Gomez’s community college district campaign to help overcome her lack of name recognition in the district. Vidak put forth a lackluster effort, and even his attack ads were not particularly effective.

            In Assembly District 23, Jim Patterson (R–Fresno) easily won reelection against Democratic challenger Aileen Rizo. Rizo won a high-profile equity pay case against the Fresno County Board of Education and was well supported among the progressive community. However, the district demographics proved to be too right leaning.

            Assembly Member Joaquin Arambula (D–Fresno) had a landslide victory over Republican Lupe Espinoza in his bid for reelection.

City of Fresno

Two significant changes will occur on the Fresno City Council as an outcome of this year’s election results. First, there will be a true Democratic majority on the body. On paper, Democrats will have a 5-2 majority, but practically speaking one of those five regularly votes with the Republicans. Second, the body will have a Latinx majority. That is a huge advance from the situation in 2010, when the result of the District 5 race would give us either a sole Latino or a sole woman on the Council (the Latino won, and the Council was without female representation until Esmeralda Soria’s election in 2014).

            Democrat Miguel Arias (District 3), currently a trustee on the State Center Community College District board, defeated fellow Democrat Tate Hill. Arias had beaten a large field in the primary but had not secured 50% of the vote. Hill tried to pull together an odd coalition of business and church leaders to little avail.

In the District 5 primary, incumbent Democrat Luis Chavez had gotten quite a scare from two challengers: Paula Yang and Jose Leon Barraza. Barraza subsequently endorsed Chavez, and Chavez won the fall campaign convincingly. Yang was something of a chameleon, having been registered as a Democrat, a Republican and a No Party Preference, all within the past two years.

District 7 is one of the most Democratic in the city by registration. Yet, for the past eight years it was “represented” by libertarian Republican Clint Olivier, who was prevented from seeking reelection by term limits. Republican Brian Whelan spent a small fortune trying to keep the district in right-wing hands, but Democrat Nelson Esparza, currently on the Fresno County Board of Education, prevailed. The combined primary votes for Esparza and Veva Islas indicated strong support for community interests in this race. The District 7 race became one of the most expensive City Council races ever and one of the most negative.

Education

For the State Center Community College District Board, there will now be a 5-2 Democratic majority and a working 4-3 majority with Magdalena Gomez winning Trustee Area 4 over longtime incumbent Ron Nishinaka and Annalisa Perea taking Trustee Area 5 to replace Arias, who has moved to the Fresno City Council. Gomez and Perea will combine with incumbents John Leal and Eric Payne for a progressive advantage. Although registered a Democrat, incumbent Debbie Ikeda frequently votes with conservative interests.

            On the Fresno County Board of Education, Kimberly Tapscott-Munson, who had sought the Fresno City Council District 3 seat in the spring, bested a field of four to take the District 1 seat. Democrat Marcy Masumoto was unchallenged for the District 4 seat, where she replaces lifetime incumbent Delbert Cederquist. With Esparza being elected to the City Council, his replacement will be determined by a Board appointment.

            On the Fresno Unified School District, the results were mixed. In two Democrat versus Democrat races, Veva Islas topped incumbent Christopher de la Cerda and Keshia Thomas defeated Robert Fuentes for the seat being vacated by Cal Johnson. Those victories were tempered by Valerie Davis’s reelection in the Sunnyside area and the election of Terry Slatic for the Bullard area. Nasreen Johnson ran second in the Bullard race and might well have won had it been a one-on-one race; instead, there were three females. Islas and Thomas bring a focus on eliminating inequities and focusing on students.

Not Over Yet

All local elections are not yet behind us. Clovis, in a classic case of institutional voter suppression, will hold its City Council election early next year. Filing for candidacy is currently underway at the Fresno County Registrar’s Office (2221 Kern St., Fresno) and continues through Dec. 7.

Clovis does not yet have district elections, so all City Council members are elected citywide. Three of the five seats will be on the ballot on March 5.

To file or to learn more, call 559-600-8683 or visit the Fresno County Registrar of Voters Web site (www.fresnovote.com). Under “Current Election Activities,” click on “March 5, 2019–City of Clovis Election.”

*****

Michael D. Evans is a political activist, editor and writer. Contact him at evansm@usa.net.

  • The Community Alliance is a monthly newspaper that has been published in Fresno, California, since 1996. The purpose of the newspaper is to help build a progressive movement for social and economic justice.

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