As a resident and engaged voter in California, I’ve been trying to keep up with the flood of news, election pamphlets, radio and TV ads, endorsements, voter information guides and public affairs discussions of our upcoming June 5 Statewide Direct Primary Election.
It’s demanding, complex, at times bewildering.
And awe-inspiring. . .
Once you back off from the political passions of the moment, the divisive rhetoric about issues and candidates, the daily diet of bad news that stokes your outrage, you see the grandeur of a bigger picture about what is happening politically in California, and its potential impact on the future of America.
In today’s New York Times, an op-ed piece titled “The Californization of America” gives you that bigger picture in bold and bracing strokes.
The author, Steve Kettmann, is what I like to call a ‘global Californian’ — family roots in the state going back to the 1849 Gold Rush, and a worldview shaped by national and international as well as local experience.
The central theme of Kettman’s op-ed is that California, recognized world economic powerhouse, living proof that cultural diversity and welcoming of immigrants is a strength, and looking to the future rather than the past, “is reinventing itself as the cultural and moral center of a new America” and “offers a better alternative to the America Trump promises.”
The major issues the U.S. is facing nationally, he says, including immigration and clean energy, are issues that California has been working to address for years. And the solutions we’ve been developing here are not ideological, but combine a generally progressive direction with a great deal of pragmatism.
While it may be hard to see at times, because California is such a ‘deep blue’ state, where liberal values and Democratic political affiliation are dominant, what happens here is not just a brave but irrelevant ‘outlier’ to where the country as a whole is headed, but a foretaste of our national future.
Kettmann sees the politics of California as can-do and optimistic, rather than gridlocked, backward-looking and turf-protecting. There is a common-sense belief in this state that government policy and action, at all levels, can be a force for the common good, and that politics is not just a path to personal gain or class advantage.
This view is echoed by California businessman and philanthropist Tom Steyer, long-time Democratic activist and fundraiser, and founder of the advocacy organization NextGen America:
“I think California has this great advantage, which is we have a functioning democracy. With all our problems. . . we have a spirit in business and politics that says, sure, there are big problems, but we can address them.”
Which brings us back to the California Primary Election on June 5.
Typically, primary elections in the U.S. don’t bring out large numbers of voters, and often don’t have major headline-grabbing issues that galvanize people. 2018 has been shaping up to be something different.
In state after state, the candidates standing for office and the issues being decided are proxies for different visions of America. The energy of this contest for the ‘hearts and souls’ of the nation is palpable.
Here in California, we have 27 candidates running to replace outgoing Democratic Governor Jerry Brown, whose two terms in office since 2011 have been highly successful in leading our complicated state through challenging times.
The three front-runners for the position of Governor — Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom (D), former Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa (D), and former State Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Eastin (D) — are all immensely capable and and accomplished political leaders. Many of the other candidates are highly qualified and and competent too.
Our respected and effective U.S. Senator Diane Feinstein is being challenged for her seventh term in office by 31 candidates, of whom at least one, California State Senate President pro Tempore Kevin De León (D), represents the strongest alternative and could possibly win, or at least come in second — which would mean he runs against her in the November general elections. He too, is capable and accomplished.
In the State Assembly District in which I vote (District 15), we are selecting one of 12 candidates, of whom the majority are serious and competent, to replace our popular outgoing State Assembly Member, Tony Thurmond (D).
These numbers alone, and those in other contests in the state, show some of the political vibrancy of California today.
Furthermore, when you look at the platforms and policies espoused by the candidates most likely to win — which means, overwhelmingly, Democrats — you find a growing consensus over what can and should be the direction of government in the next decade.
Health care and education as a right rather than a privilege
Global trade as essential to a thriving economy
Immigrants as a source of prosperity
Unity and strength in diversity
Addressing climate change as crucial to our survival
Renewable energy as the way of the future
The positive role government must play in addressing issues of poverty and inequality
The need for both strong business and strong government
In brief, a 21st-century vision of the common good.
Sometimes, in the heat of pre-election fervor, we seem to emphasize our political differences rather than our growing consensus.
The ‘progressive’ versus ‘mainstream’ Democratic rhetoric in California can be loud, the partisans of one candidate may vilify the others, everyone tends to get a bit positional and self-righteous about their point of view.
But the morning after, whoever gets elected, we will continue to have a functioning democracy and to move the California agenda forward in the direction of that overall consensus vision of the future.
We don’t know whether the fomenters of dissent who stoked the 2018 national U.S. election have tried to impact our June 5 California primary. But we expect an honest election, and no credible challenge to its legitimacy.
The process of an orderly and legitimate electoral process is in itself a miracle — citizens participating in selecting political leaders and policy directions, without tricks to suppress the votes of certain groups. Ask anyone who comes from a place where this can’t be taken for granted.
Let me close with a detail about our election apparatus, both nationally and in California, that most of us take for granted. I’m constantly thrilled by it.
In many parts of the U.S., and nowadays encouraged by the rhetoric of our profoundly anti-democratic President Trump, immigrant bashing has become normalized, white cultural nativism is on the ascendant, and the right to vote of those who are ‘different’ is being challenged or restricted.
The federal Voting Rights Act mandates that ballots be made available in languages other than English, and bilingual poll workers provided, in counties where 3% of voters are members of a language minority and lack sufficient skill in English to vote without assistance.
I’m not sure how enthusiastically this is followed in all other states, or how thoroughly enforced by the present federal government. Here in California, we do this, without fanfare, not only for the 7 languages originally specified by the Voting Rights Act, but an additional 6 languages we have added just this year.
So, depending on which California county you live in, your election materials for the June 5 primary will be not only in English, but may also be in Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, Tagalog (the original federal list), and also in Punjabi, Hmong, Syriac, Armenian, Persian or Arabic.
This, too, is the future.