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The Promise of California and TheJune 5 Primary Election

 7 min read / 

Voters in California for the past several weeks have been flooded with news, election pamphlets, radio and TV ads, endorsements, voter information guides and public affairs discussions of the June 5 Statewide Direct Primary Election. It is demanding, complex, at times bewildering.

And awe-inspiring. . .

Once one backs off from the political passions of the moment, the divisive rhetoric about issues and candidates, the daily diet of bad news that stokes one’s outrage, it is possible to see the grandeur of a bigger picture about what is happening politically in California, and its potential impact on the future of America.

California Dreamin’

Early in June, the New York Times published an op-ed piece titled “The Californization of America” presents that bigger picture in bold and bracing strokes.

The author, Steve Kettmann, is what 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.

Kettman’s central theme is that California, recognised as a world economic powerhouse, living proof that cultural diversity and the 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 US is facing nationally, including immigration and clean energy, are issues that California has been working to address for years. And the solutions that are developing there are not ideological but combine a generally progressive direction with a great deal of pragmatism.

California Foretells Where America Goes

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 there is not just a brave but irrelevant ‘outlier’ to where the country as a whole is headed, but a foretaste of the nation’s future.

Kettmann sees the politics of California as can-do and optimistic, rather than gridlocked, backwards-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.”

The June 5 Primary Election in California

Typically, primary elections in the US do not bring out large numbers of voters, and often do not 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.

In California, there are 27 candidates running to replace outgoing Democratic Governor Jerry Brown, whose two terms in office since 2011 have been highly successful in leading the complex 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 accomplished political leaders. Many of the other candidates are highly qualified and competent too.

Feinstein Facing a Challenge

California’s respected and effective US Senator Diane Feinstein is being challenged for her seventh term in office by 31 candidates, of whom at least one, California Assembly speaker Kevin De León (D), represents a strong 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.

These numbers alone and those in other contests in the state show some of the political vibrancy of California today.

Furthermore, when one looks 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 fervour, Californians seem to emphasise their political differences rather than their 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, the state will continue to have a functioning democracy and move the California agenda forward in the direction of that overall consensus vision of the future.

Hangovers from 2016

It is not known whether the fomenters of dissent who stoked the 2016 national US election have tried to impact the June 5 California primary. But one can 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 cannot be taken for granted.

Multilingual, Multiethnic, Multifaith: All California

Finally, a detail about the election apparatus, both nationally and in California, that most of the people in the state take for granted.

In many parts of the US, and nowadays encouraged by the rhetoric of profoundly anti-democratic President Trump, immigrant bashing has become normalised, white cultural nativism is on the ascendancy, 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.

This may not be enthusiastically followed in all states, or thoroughly enforced by the present federal government. In California, it is done, without fanfare, not only for the 7 languages originally specified by the Voting Rights Act but an additional 6 languages that have added just this year.

So, depending on which California county a person lives in, election materials for the June 5 primary will be available 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 and Arabic.

This too is the future.

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