Ventura County Star: Timm Herdt-- What if Democrats call a bad play

Venture County Star
February 3, 2015
By Timm Herdt

Last Friday and Saturday, an assemblage of California’s top political operatives and analysts gathered in Berkeley, where they spent considerable time discussing a perennial post election question in this dark-blue state: Are Democrats destined to forever dominate?

The consensus answer: It sure looks that way, if not forever, then at least for a very long time.

The numbers are overwhelming: 43-28-23. Those are the percentages of registered voters who are, respectively, Democrats, Republicans and have no party preference.

USC Professor Sherry Bebitch Jeffe showed she can do the math. “Republicans,” she said, “appear to be on the brink of third-party status in this state.”

Then on Sunday, with 114.5 million people watching on television, something happened that should suggest to even political academics that unexpected things are possible, and they can happen quickly. The defending Super Bowl champions, a few seconds away from near-certain victory, lost the game.

All it took was one bad play call, one disastrous decision.

As it happens, there are a couple of developments unfolding in state politics that might generate some concern among thoughtful Democrats.

First, there is the question of whether Democrats will be able to sustain recent enthusiasm among the voting group that has been almost solely responsible for converting California from what was once a politically competitive state to, for all practical purposes, a one-party state. This group, of course, is Latino voters.

Latinos account for well over a third of state Democratic voters. When they turn out in large numbers, as they did in 2008, 2010 and 2012, Democrats at the top of the ticket in California win by landslides, even when they lose among non-Hispanic whites. That was twice the case with President Barack Obama, and also with Gov. Jerry Brown in 2010.

But what would happen if California Latinos were to tune out of politics?

That’s a question the Legislature’s Latino Caucus is raising at a time when a top-of-ticket opening will present itself in 2016 with Sen. Barbara Boxer’s retirement. So far, the only announced candidate is Attorney General Kamala Harris, a San Francisco Democrat.

The Latino Caucus on Tuesday released a poll that indicates having a Latino candidate in the Senate primary “could generate enthusiasm among this constituency and even expand its turnout.”

Clearly, there is concern that an effort by the San Francisco-based party establishment to clear the field for Harris could dampen enthusiasm and turnout among Latino voters.

The clear message to the party establishment is that there are at least three potentially viable Latino candidates from Southern California — former L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, and Reps. Xavier Becerra and Loretta Sanchez — and that no one should try to muscle them out to clear a path for Harris.

Such a move, Latino Democrats are intimating, would be the equivalent of calling a pass play on the goal line, creating the potential for a game-changing interception.

Another potential pitfall for Democrats was raised over the weekend by Steve Glazer, who managed Brown’s 2010 campaign but has since run afoul of party activists by advocating policy positions that organized labor considers anti-union.

Glazer got walloped by a union-funded negative campaign when he unsuccessfully ran for the Assembly last year. He’s now running in a special election for an open Senate seat in the East San Francisco Bay Area. He clearly expects a repeat of the attacks.

Glazer said at the conference that what he called “the demonizing” of Democrats such as himself and former San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed who don’t fall in line with union orthodoxy “is going to create a fracture within our party.

“They continue to demonize people who had been loyal Democrats,” he said. “The Democratic Party that celebrates diversity of backgrounds doesn’t accept diversity of opinions.”

After losing in the Assembly primary last year, Glazer endorsed Republican Catharine Baker, who went on to defeat union-backed Democrat Tim Sbranti and become the first GOP candidate to win a Bay Area legislative seat since 2006.

Democratic Party executive director Shawnda Westly dismissed Glazer’s prediction of an ideological fracture. “We are big-tent on issues,” she said. “We go moderate, we go liberal.”

She pointed to a broad range of ideological diversity among Democrats now serving in the Legislature.

Maybe so, but Glazer’s warning shouldn’t be dismissed.

If the other team were to develop some more talented personnel and come up with a better game plan, he and others like him have the potential to eventually switch jerseys and pick off a pass in the end zone.