Thursday, October 8, 2009

President Bill Clinton & California's 10th Congressional District

Former President Bill Clinton endorsed California Lt. Gov. John Garamendi at the Basque Cultural Center in South San Francisco on October 6th. Garamendi is the Democratic nominee for the special election for California’s 10th Congressional District on November 3rd. Garamendi served in the Clinton Administration as Deputy Secretary of the Interior from 1995 to 1998.

Clinton is a pivotal figure in the political history of the 10th Congressional District. In 1992, he was the first Democratic presidential nominee to win California since the Lyndon Johnson landslide of 1964. Clinton won thirteen of the fifteen CD-10 cities then in existence (he lost only Moraga and San Ramon; Oakley would not be incorporated as a city until 1999). Michael Dukakis, the Democratic presidential nominee four years earlier, won just six of the fifteen cities.

In 1992, Clinton won three cities in today’s 10th District that had not voted Democratic since Johnson's trouncing of conservative Republican Barry Goldwater 28 years earlier: Dixon, Livermore and Walnut Creek. He also won Lafayette and Orinda, both of which had never supported a Democrat for president since their incorporation (in 1968 and 1985 respectively). It was an especially amazing transformation since the Bush-Dukakis election four years earlier. From 1988 to 1992, George H.W. Bush lost 24 percentage points in Livermore, 23 points in Walnut Creek, Lafayette and Orinda and 19 points in Dixon. Walnut Creek has not voted Republican for president since Clinton’s win in 1992. Clinton was the first Democratic presidential nominee to win Fairfield since Jimmy Carter defeated President Gerald Ford there in 1976. Although Clinton narrowly lost Moraga in 1992, he narrowly won it in 1996.

In the 1990s, the 10th District had a different configuration. It did not include Solano and Sacramento counties or El Cerrito or Concord; all of San Ramon, Danville, Clayton, Pleasanton, Dublin and Brentwood were in the district, along with Castro Valley and Ashland west of the hills. Assemblyman Bill Baker (R-Danville), a strong conservative, narrowly won CD-10 in 1992 (52%-48%) as Clinton carried the district over President Bush (42%-35%).

In 1996, Clinton won CD-10 again (48%-43%) over Republican nominee Bob Dole. Aided by Clinton’s coattails and heavy spending (more than $1 million) from her then-husband’s Computerland, Inc. fortune, Ellen Tauscher (D-Tassajara Valley) narrowly defeated Rep. Baker. Clinton endorsed Tauscher at a Halloween campaign rally at Oakland’s Jack London Square. Many children in attendance wore costumes. Tauscher won by about 4,100 votes (48.6% Tauscher vs. 47.2% Baker). Tauscher lost in many CD-10 cities that Clinton won, including Livermore and Pleasanton.

The California Supreme Court, which drew legislative districts following the 1990 census, explained its reasoning for drawing CD-10 as it did in its Wilson v. Eu opinion: "District 10 includes all of Contra Costa and Alameda Counties east of the East Bay Hills plus the unincorporated Castro Valley area west of the hills, which had to be included for population equality reasons." 1 Cal.4th 707, 789. Had the Castro Valley area not been added to CD-10 as an afterthought, Tauscher likely would not have been elected.

Had Castro Valley and Ashland not been in district, Tauscher would have lost to Baker because Eden Township (the only portion of CD-10 west of the hills, accounting for just 8% of the total CD-10 vote) gave her a 4,300 vote plurality. She won Ashland (a community in the Bay flatland near Interstate Highway 238) by 69%-25%, a 44 percentage point margin over Baker.

The "925" telephone area code was not created until 1998, but its west-of-hills/east-of-hills geological/political divide is useful for explaining the tenuity of Tauscher's victory in '96 -- Tauscher's big margin in the tiny, Democrat-laden "510" portion of CD-10 (8% of total CD-10 vote) overpowered Baker's small win in the enormous "925" part of the district (92% of total CD-10 vote).

In 2000, CD-10 supported Al Gore over George W. Bush (51%-45%). In the re-districting following the 2000 Census of Population, CD-10 was re-configured to become more Democratic, including the strongly Democratic community of El Cerrito and much of Concord, along with portions of Solano and Sacramento counties. Many of its most Republican areas were transferred to CD-11, a San Joaquin Valley-based district then represented by Richard Pombo (R-Tracy), who was finally ousted by Jerry McNerney (D-Pleasanton) in 2006. Just about all of the houses in San Ramon (Dougherty Valley) and Brentwood within CD-10 have been constructed since 2000.

John Kerry decisively won the new CD-10 over President George W. Bush in 2004 (59%-40%). Kerry lost just two cities with territory within CD-10: Brentwood and Dixon. For the first time in more than a half century, in 2004 Walnut Creek, Livermore and Fairfield backed a Democrat who lost the national popular vote for president.

Barack Obama did even better in 2008, winning CD-10 65%-33% over John McCain. Obama won not only all sixteen cities in CD-10, but also every city in the nine-county Bay Area, a feat that had not been accomplished since the California Secretary of State began reporting presidential vote by cities in 1964. The nearest cities to CD-10 that Obama failed to win in 2008 were Colusa to the north, Paso Robles to the south and Citrus Heights, Galt and Lodi to the east.

Of the eleven CD-10 cities that have been in existence since 1964, Dixon in Solano County is the "bellwether" -- its presidential election returns have mirrored national statistics the best. Dixon has voted for the national winner in 11 of the past 12 presidential elections; it was wrong only in 1976 when it favored Ford over Carter. In 2008, it voted 53.0%-45.0% for Obama-McCain, very close to the national percentages of 53.1%-45.8%. By CalPolitical's measure, Dixon is the sixth best "bellwether" city in California. (The best "presidential bellwether" city in California is Blythe, a city that is along Interstate Highway 10 near the Colorado River and Arizona border.)

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

San Joaquin County in Congress - 1909 to 2009

Just thirteen men have represented San Joaquin County in the U.S. House of Representatives over the past century. Gerald “Jerry” McNerney became San Joaquin’s latest congressman in 2007, following his defeat of Rep. Richard W. Pombo (R-Tracy).

  1. James Carson Needham (R-Modesto, 1899-1913, defeated)
  2. Charles Curry, Sr. (R-Sacramento, 1913-30, died in office)
  3. Charles “Forrest” Curry, Jr. (R-Sacramento, 1931-33, defeated)
  4. Frank H. Buck, Jr. (D-Vacaville, 1933-42, died in office)
  5. J. Leroy Johnson (R-Stockton, 1943-57, defeated)
  6. John J. McFall (D-Manteca, 1957-79, defeated)
  7. Norman Shumway (R-Stockton, 1979-91, retired)
  8. Richard Lehman (D-Sanger, 1983-95, county moved out of district in ’92)
  9. John Doolittle (R-Rocklin, 1991-2009, county moved out of district in ’92)
  10. Gary Condit (D-Ceres, 1989-2003, county moved into district in ’92, defeated)
  11. Richard Pombo (R-Tracy, 1993-2007, defeated)
  12. Dennis Cardoza (D-Atwater, 2003-present)
  13. Gerald “Jerry” McNerney (D-Pleasanton, 2007-present)

San Joaquin congressmen tend to serve for many years until death or rejection by voters, usually after a scandal. Rarely do they simply retire. Three issues have been of perennial importance to representatives of a county which now has a farm product larger than 14 states: agriculture, foreign trade, and Asian relations.

A century ago, James Carson Needham (R-Modesto) was San Joaquin’s congressman. Born on an emigrant wagon in Carson City, Nev. in 1864, Needham was founder of the Covered Wagon Babies Club. During his 14 years in Congress (1899-1913), he represented most of the San Joaquin Valley. As the West Coast’s sole appointee to the influential Ways and Means committee, he advocated high tariffs on agricultural imports (such as citrus and olive oil) in order to protect California farmers. “Had he been the least bit wobbly on protection, he would not have been appointed,” one newspaper opined. He also supported “pure wine” bills to undercut dried fruit and molasses wines produced in other states. Irrigation was another policy interest as the Valley aspired to upgrade from dry farming. Needham lost his seat in 1912 after San Joaquin was removed from his district.

Charles Curry, Sr. (R-Sacramento) represented San Joaquin, Sacramento, Solano, Yolo, Napa, and Contra Costa counties from 1913 until his death in 1930. He was California Secretary of State from 1899 to 1910, when he ran unsuccessfully for governor. Curry strongly supported California’s Alien Land Law, which restricted property ownership rights for Asian immigrants. “The Japanese are driving the American farmer out of business in California,” he told Congress. “The idea of marriage between whites and Asiatics is revolting,” he added.

As longtime chairman of the House Territories Committee, Curry exerted great influence over Puerto Rican, Hawaiian, and Alaskan affairs – a community on the Alaska Railroad was named for him. Flood control was another policy interest that was key to the region’s development; the Sacramento and Mississippi rivers were the only waterways covered by the first federal flood control act in 1917. Curry obtained federal support for construction of the Stockton ship channel. He also was an aviation advocate who defended the outspoken General “Billy” Mitchell, regarded as the “father of the U.S. Air Force.”

Curry’s death just before the 1930 election set off a three-way write-in vote campaign to determine his replacement. Charles “Forrest” Curry, Jr., longtime aide to his father in Washington, prevailed against state Sen. J.M. Inman (R-Sacramento) and wealthy fruit grower Frank Buck, Jr. (D-Vacaville), both of whom favored ending prohibition. Obliquely criticizing the Curry family, an Inman ad stated, “[Inman] runs on his Own Record … He stands in his Own Shoes.” The son continued his father’s “Curry Service” tradition as Curry Jr. secured new post offices for Lodi and Tracy.

Whereas Curry Sr. amassed enough seniority to become dean of California’s congressional delegation, Curry Jr.’s political career was much shorter. In 1932, Buck ousted him in a re-match. The Great Depression had eroded voters’ faith in Republicans; the Democrats’ “New Deal” offered a new direction. San Joaquin newspaper readers saw dueling ads: Buck’s “The ‘New Deal’ Demands a New Congressman” versus “Cling to Curry … We Do Not Want Any ‘New Deal’ Here – The Present Deal Is the Best for Us.” Radio audiences heard 15-minute paid programs from each camp.

As a Ways and Means committee member in 1935, Buck moved that the “Economic Security Bill” be re-titled “Social Security Act” and stood behind President Franklin Roosevelt as he signed the landmark legislation. Buck repeatedly led efforts to defeat mandatory joint income tax returns, sparing couples in community property states such as California from increased tax bills. He authored laws that cut excise taxes on wine and enhanced Mare Island Naval Yard in Vallejo. A conservative “Bourbon Democrat,” Buck endured a strong primary challenge from a liberal Democrat in 1942. (In the 21st century, Buck’s legacy lives on through Buck Foundation scholarships awarded to college-bound students from the six counties formerly in his congressional district.)

Buck’s death in 1942 cleared the way for J. Leroy Johnson (R-Stockton) to become the first San Joaquin resident to serve in Congress since the retirement of Rep. Samuel Woods (R-Stockton) in 1903. A major backer of “Forrest” Curry in 1932, Johnson was a Stockton planning commissioner and city attorney before he went to Congress in 1943. His ads touted “A Fighting Man for a War Congress.” A World War I combat pilot, he served on the Military Affairs and Armed Services committees during World War II and the Korean War. Johnson often lauded Warren H. Atherton, a Stockton attorney and National Commander of the American Legion, who became known as the “Father of the G.I. Bill of Rights.”

During World War II, Johnson advocated not only deportation of Japanese aliens but also expatriation of many Japanese American citizens. “I point out that the Japanese are a nonassimilable race,” he explained on the House floor in 1943, “no matter whether they are here for 100 years or 200 years, they will never become assimilated in the way that European races assimilate with the rest of the Americans.”

Making Johnson’s age (68) a campaign issue, Assemblyman John J. McFall (D-Manteca) defeated him in 1956. Newspaper editorials criticized Johnson for his “inaction.” McFall’s ads declared: “Elect A Working Congressman” and “the REAL issue is a COMPETENT Congressman.”

Johnson reminded voters that he authored the Civil Air Patrol Act and claimed responsibility for creation of the Central Intelligence Agency. His ads displayed his photo with the popular President Dwight Eisenhower, then running for re-election. “Vote for a Record Not a Promise,” the ad pleaded, “Keep Roy Johnson on IKE’S Team.”

McFall rose the highest in Congress of all San Joaquin representatives. He was the Majority Whip, the third-highest House officer, from 1973 to 1977. As chairman of the Appropriations transportation subcommittee, he secured funding for the Highway 120 Manteca bypass, among other San Joaquin projects. He backed construction of New Melones and New Hogan dams and supported the Johnson and Nixon Administrations’ funding of the Vietnam Conflict.

San Joaquin County Supervisor Norman Shumway (R-Stockton) defeated McFall in 1978, when all four of the Valley’s then-existing congressional districts turned over. McFall was implicated in the “Koreagate” influence-peddling scandal, leading to persistent articles about his alleged ethical lapses in district newspapers. The House reprimanded him for failing to report a $3,000 campaign contribution from Tongsun Park, a flamboyant South Korean rice broker.

Furthermore, McFall’s series of easy campaigns made him complacent. “John hasn’t had a tough race before, he doesn’t know how to campaign,” former aide Irv Sprague told supporters. McFall’s ads featured endorsements from major national and local political figures with the message, “We NEED John McFall in Congress … he can get the job done!”

An ad of dubious origin from a mysterious “Chinese Committee to Re-Elect Congressman John McFall” run by a “Mr. Wong” appeared in newspapers just before the election. It declared, “It is a proven fact to us that request for aid is given with dispatch and expedience.” McFall narrowly won San Joaquin, but Shumway decisively took the foothill counties added to the district in 1975.

Shumway sat on the Banking, Merchant Marine, and Aging committees during his six terms in Congress. Fluent in Japanese from his service as a Mormon missionary, he led congressional delegations to Japan in the 1980s. Shumway voted against the 1988 legislation that made reparations to Japanese internees during World War II. The only San Joaquin congressman to leave office voluntarily in the 20th century, Shumway retired in 1990.

In the 1980s, San Joaquin was split into two districts that stretched from the Oregon border to Fresno. Assemblyman Richard Lehman (D-Sanger) was elected in 1982 to a district that included the south county and much of Stockton and encompassed foothill counties in order to pick up his residence in Fresno County. Shumway’s district stretched from Stockton-Lodi to the Mount Shasta region. After Shumway retired, ex-state Sen. John Doolittle (R-Rocklin) represented his portion of San Joaquin for one term.

Gary Condit (D-Ceres) represented the Vernalis area in the 1990s. Linked to Chandra Levy, a former congressional intern from Modesto who was found dead in Washington in 2001, Condit was defeated by Assemblyman Dennis Cardoza (D-Atwater) in the 2002 primary election. Democrats in the state legislature assured Cardoza’s election by drawing central Stockton into his district. In November 2002, Cardoza lost to state Sen. Dick Monteith (R) in Merced and Stanislaus counties, but squeaked into office on the strength of San Joaquin’s votes.

Richard Pombo vaulted from the Tracy City Council into Congress in 1993, after defeating Sacramento County Supervisor Sandra Smoley, a moderate Republican, and Patti Garamendi (D-Walnut Grove), wife of the then-State Insurance Commissioner, in a new 11th Congressional District that covered most of San Joaquin and southern Sacramento counties (Elk Grove). Pombo defeated Smoley by about 5,200 votes (36%-27%) in June 1992 and Garamendi by about 4,000 votes (47.6%-45.6%) that November.

Pombo was among the minority of House Republicans who voted against the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1993. He rose to the chairmanship of the Resources committee where he advocated reform of environmental laws, including the Endangered Species Act. In 2002, Sacramento County and central Stockton, French Camp, and Lathrop were dropped and Republican-leaning communities in Alameda, Contra Costa and Santa Clara counties were added to the district.

Jerry McNerney, a renewable energy expert who designed windmills in the Altamont Pass, first challenged Pombo in 2004. After winning the Democratic nomination through a write-in campaign, he lost to Pombo by a wide margin (39%-61%) and ran behind John Kerry (who won 45% of the CD-11 presidential vote). Allegations of ethical violations by Pombo subsequently came to light, linking him to Jack Abramoff, a lobbyist who ultimately pled guilty to corruption charges.

In 2006, ex-Rep. Pete McCloskey waged a vigorous primary challenge against Pombo, environmental organizations relentlessly attacked Pombo’s record, and voters’ mailboxes filled with slick booklets. President George W. Bush, Vice President Richard Cheney, and First Lady Laura Bush appeared for Pombo; former President Bill Clinton campaigned with McNerney. Hundreds of precinct workers registered voters and advocated house-by-house for their candidates.

The “air war” was intense. In recognition of the sprawling district’s political diversity, McNerney’s Valley television ads bluntly declared, “Pombo’s got to go!” where his Bay Area ads emphasized his opposition to the Iraq war. A “Veterans for Pombo” attack ad was pulled in the final days and replaced with one in which Pombo spoke directly to viewers, declaring “I won’t back down when it comes to fighting for the things that I believe in.” The national Republican party spent $1.4 million to aid Pombo, including a television spot which alleged that McNerney would grant billions in public benefits to illegal immigrants. “Americans for Conservation,” an independent expenditure group, ran anti-Pombo T.V. ads. The morning before the election, more than half of all local ads on KXTV concerned the McNerney-Pombo race.

Aided by a countrywide anti-Republican trend, McNerney prevailed in his 2006 re-match, 53% to 47%. It was the only congressional seat to switch parties of the 70 districts in the Pacific Coast states. Pombo spent $4.6 million ($48 per vote) compared to $2.4 million by McNerney ($22 per vote). San Joaquin narrowly favored Pombo, but McNerney dominated the Bay Area counties to become the thirteenth congressman to represent San Joaquin County in the past century.

In 2008, McNerney defeated former Assemblyman Dean Andal of Stockton by a comfortable margin (55%-45%) as Barack Obama became the first Democratic presidential candidate in 12 years to win in San Joaquin County. Rising energy prices ($4 per gallon gasoline irked commuters) and plummeting home values (the county’s home foreclosure rate led the nation) were major issues. Andal’s campaign theme was “Energy for America.” McNerney spent $3.0 million ($18 per vote) compared to $1.4 million by Andal ($11 per vote).

In 2009, McNerney was appointed to the Energy and Commerce committee, which is shaping climate change and health care legislation during the Obama Administration. The 11th Congressional District is again destined to be in the national spotlight in 2010.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Proposition 8 (2008): City-by-City Analysis

California voters last November ratified Proposition 8, a constitutional amendment against marriage equality/gay marriage that stated in full, “Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.” The amendment altered California’s due process and equal protection clauses in Article I, section 7 of the California Constitution (California’s version of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution). It was the most significant change to this part of the state constitution since voters adopted an amendment against compulsory busing as a public school desegregation measure in the 1979 special statewide election (Proposition 1). Proposition 8 effectively overturned the May 2008 In re Marriage Cases decision of the California Supreme Court that struck down California’s statutes limiting marriage to heterosexual couples (especially Proposition 22-the Knight Initiative with identical text as Proposition 8, but ratified by voters as a statute rather than a constitutional amendment on the March 2000 ballot).

On May 30th and 31st, rallies for and against marriage equality were held in Fresno. Marriage equality advocates targeted Fresno, in part, because every city in the San Joaquin Valley voted in favor of Proposition 8 last November. Fresno itself voted 64.7% in favor of Proposition 8 (it had the weakest Yes vote within the six counties of the southern San Joaquin Valley; most cities in that region voted 70%+ in favor of Proposition 8).

CalPoltiCal has done an analysis of last November’s voting returns in all 58 California counties and 480 cities. As others have observed, political party is not necessarily the best predictor of voting on the marriage equality issue. Whereas many reliably Democratic, working class cities (such as Vallejo and Union City in the Bay Area, Compton in Los Angeles County and Colton in the Inland Empire) voted Yes on 8, many traditionally Republican, upscale cities (such as Atherton and Danville in the Bay Area and El Segundo and Westlake Village in southern California) voted No on 8. Here are the findings:


  • Voters cast 7.0 million ballots in favor of Proposition 8 and 6.4 million ballots against. The margin of victory for Proposition 8 was 599,602 votes.
  • The statewide percentage was 52.3% Yes-47.7% No. The city that came closest to the statewide result was Crescent City, California’s northernmost coastal city (it has voted for the national winner in 11 of the past 12 presidential elections). Crescent City voted 52.1%-47.9% in favor of Proposition 8.
  • The “drop-off” for Proposition 8 was remarkably low. Of the 13.7 million ballots cast in November 2008, 13.4 million expressed a Yes or No vote on Proposition 8 (a drop-off of 2.5%). Nearly 13.6 million ballots were cast for president (drop-off of 1.3%). Just 12.3 million total ballots were cast in California’s 53 congressional races (drop-off of 10.3%). In contrast, just 11.99 million voted on the Proposition 11-Redistricting measure (drop-off of 12.7%), the lowest turnout for the twelve statewide ballot measures in that election. This suggests that most Californians have made up their mind on the marriage equality issue; conversions rather than new voters likely will be key in any future “re-votes” on this issue.
  • 328 cities (68 percent) voted “Yes on 8;” 152 cities (32 percent) voted “No.”
  • The strongest Yes on 8 city was 81.7% in Maricopa in western Kern County (followed by Shafter in Kern County and Kingsburg in Fresno County).
  • The strongest No on 8 city was 87.4% in Berkeley (followed by Fairfax in Marin County and West Hollywood).
  • The most evenly divided city was Fremont in Alameda County. The split was 49.98% Yes-50.02% No (just a 33 vote lead for No out of 73,683 votes cast).
  • Three of the strongest six Yes on 8 cities (Shafter, Wasco, Dinuba), along with many others, supported Barack Obama for president. None of the No on 8 cities supported John McCain for president, but many No on 8 cities supported George W. Bush in 2000 or 2004 (e.g., Livermore and Pleasanton in Alameda County).


  • All cities in the Central Valley voted Yes on 8 except three: Sacramento, Davis and Chico.
  • As stated above, all 62 cities in the eight San Joaquin Valley counties (including the presidential election bellwethers of Modesto, Merced, Madera and Fresno) voted Yes on 8.
  • Livingston in Merced County (most famous as the headquarters of Foster Farms) voted Democratic in 12 of the past 12 presidential elections, yet voted 70% Yes on 8.
  • Live Oak, a “swing city” in Sutter County, voted 53% for Obama and 74% Yes on 8.
  • Just six cities in the Foothills, Sierra and trans-Sierra voted No on 8: Amador, South Lake Tahoe, Mammoth Lakes and all three cities in Nevada County (Grass Valley, Nevada City and Truckee). Nevada and Mono counties were the only inland counties wherein all cities voted No on 8 (but their unincorporated areas voted Yes).
  • Just two cities in inland California north of Chico voted No: Dunsmuir and Mt. Shasta in Siskiyou County.

INLAND EMPIRE (San Bernardino and Riverside counties) & IMPERIAL COUNTY:

  • All Inland Empire cities voted Yes on 8 except one: Palm Springs.
  • All Imperial County cities voted Yes on 8 as all simultaneously favored Barack Obama for president.
  • San Bernardino County (2007 population: 2.0 million) was the most populous county wherein no city voted No on 8.
  • Colton, the most reliable Democratic community in San Bernardino County, voted 66% Yes on 8.
  • Coachella, which has voted Democratic in 12 of the past 12 presidential elections, supported Proposition 8 with 67%.
  • Rancho Mirage (most famous as the retirement home of the late President Gerald Ford), which was never voted Democratic for president since its incorporation in 1973, voted 49.0% No on 8 and 46.1% for Obama. It is one of the few communities statewide where the No on 8 vote percentage exceeded the Obama vote percentage.


  • Of the 88 cities in Los Angeles County, just 21 voted No on 8. This figure stands in stark contrast to the 74 cities that Barack Obama won in the same election. Fifty-three (53) cities in Los Angeles County alone backed Obama for president yet supported Proposition 8.
  • Eight of the 21 L.A. County communities where No on 8 prevailed are beach communities: Malibu, Santa Monica, Los Angeles, El Segundo, Manhattan Beach, Hermosa Beach, Redondo Beach and Long Beach. Another No on 8 city, Signal Hill, is surrounded by another (Long Beach).
  • Three are Westside communities: Beverly Hills, Culver City and West Hollywood.
  • Three are in the Pasadena area: Pasadena, South Pasadena and Sierra Madre.
  • Four are small, upscale hill cities west of the San Fernando Valley: Agoura Hills, Calabasas, Hidden Hills and Westlake Village.
  • The two remaining No on 8 cities in L.A. County are Burbank and Claremont, a college town.
  • Noticeably missing in the above list are stalwart Democratic cities. Many Democratic strongholds voted strongly Yes on 8. Carson, Compton, Gardena, Inglewood, Irwindale and Lynnwood for example, voted 60+ percent Yes.
  • Some traditionally Republican, upscale communities voted narrowly in favor of Proposition 8: Avalon, La Canada-Flintridge and Palos Verdes Estates.


  • All cities in Orange County voted Yes on 8 except four: Aliso Viejo, Costa Mesa, Irvine and Laguna Beach.
  • Dana Point and Newport Beach came close to voting No on 8. They voted Yes 51.1% and 51.3% respectively.


  • Four cities in San Diego County, all coastal communities, voted No on 8: Del Mar, Encinitas, San Diego and Solana Beach.
  • National City, the most reliably Democratic community in the county, voted 66% in favor of Proposition 8.


  • Monterey County delivered a “split verdict” on a coastal/inland fault line, with all seven of the coastal cities (Monterey, Carmel, etc.) voting No and all five of the Salinas Valley/U.S. 101 corridor cities (Salinas, etc.) voting Yes.
  • San Benito County also had a split result, with San Juan Bautista voting No and Hollister voting Yes.
  • All four cities in Santa Cruz County voted No, with a narrow No vote in Watsonville.
  • Just seven cities voted No on 8 in San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties. Along with the three cities that share their names with their counties, the No cities were Morro Bay, Carpinteria, Goleta and Ojai.
  • Thousand Oaks in Ventura County narrowly voted Yes (50.4%); it voted Republican for 11 of the past 12 presidential elections (Obama was the first Democrat ever to win that city since incorporation in 1964).


  • The Bay Area & North Coast region is the one part of California where No on 8 dominated. In the coastal counties north of San Francisco, just three cities voted “Yes on 8”: Rio Dell, Fortuna and Crescent City.
  • Just 18 cities of the 101 cities in the nine-county Bay area voted “Yes on 8”:
    • Six of the Bay Area’s “Yes on 8” cities were in Solano County (Vallejo, Suisun City, Fairfield, Vacaville, Dixon and Rio Vista). Benicia was the only Solano County city that voted No.
    • Another six of the Bay Area’s “Yes on 8” cities were in Contra Costa County (Hercules and San Pablo in West County plus Pittsburg, Antioch, Oakley and Brentwood in East County).
    • The only Alameda County city that voted “Yes on 8” was Union City, but the win for No was razor-thin in Fremont (a switch of 17 votes would have made it a “Yes” city), Hayward, Livermore and Newark.
    • American Canyon was the only Napa County city that voted Yes.
    • Three of the 15 cities in Santa Clara County voted Yes: Milpitas, Morgan Hill and Gilroy.
    • East Palo Alto was the only San Mateo County that voted Yes. A Democratic stronghold, East Palo Alto was the only city in the U.S. 101 corridor that voted Yes on 8 between Morgan Hill south of San Jose and Rio Dell near Eureka.
    • Vallejo, Hercules, East Palo Alto and Union City were the only Bay Area cities with Bay frontage that voted Yes on 8.
  • San Francisco and all cities in Marin and Sonoma counties voted No.
  • Lake County has emerged as a statewide bellwether in the past 20 years; it has one of the best records of supporting the statewide winner (it voted 52.0%-48.0% on Proposition 8, very close to the statewide result of 52.3%-47.7%). Lake County’s two cities and unincorporated area voted Yes on 8.

In the nine-county Bay Area, the Yes on 8 votes were concentrated in five sub-areas:

  • Northern Solano County’s rapidly-growing “swing” cities (Fairfield, Vacaville, Dixon, Rio Vista),
  • Eastern Contra Costa County’s rapidly-growing “swing” cities (Antioch, Oakley, Brentwood),
  • Southern Santa Clara County’s rapidly-growing cities (Morgan Hill and Gilroy),
  • Southern Alameda County/Milpitas (Union City, Fremont, Newark, Milpitas) and
  • Working-class, ethnically-diverse Democratic stalwart cities (Vallejo, Pittsburg, San Pablo, Hayward, East Palo Alto).

The cities in the first three sub-areas tend to be “swing” communities in close elections. The latter two sub-areas should be of most concern to the pro-marriage equality advocates. Many of these cities have voted reliably for Democratic candidates in every election during the past 50 years; they generally are so loyal to the Democratic party and progressive causes that their support is assumed (and arguably taken for granted).


  1. White Collar Target: If Proposition 8 is to be overturned, the most sympathetic ears (and perhaps financial support) for marriage equality are likeliest to be found in traditionally Republican, upscale communities such as those on the Palos Verdes Peninsula (a McCain “hot spot”) in Los Angeles County, Thousand Oaks in Ventura County and Rancho Mirage in Riverside County. As a rule of thumb, the closer a community is to saltwater and/or the more nestled it is within picturesque hills, the more likely it is to be friendly to marriage equality.
  2. Blue Collar Target: A second set of targets is reliably Democratic, working class communities such as Vallejo, Compton and Colton, many of which voted two to one against marriage equality in 2008. Many of these cities probably cannot be converted to favor marriage equality, but reducing the number of anti-marriage equality votes is crucial so that other areas of the state can provide the winning margin.
  3. Swing City Target: The third set of targets is bellwether/“battleground” communities such as Lakeport and Hollister, places that “pick the winners” of most statewide elections. Marriage equality supporters need to talk “to” (not “at”) people in these communities, listen to their concerns and adjust arguments accordingly. As stated above, conversions rather than new voters likely will be key in any future “re-votes” on the marriage equality issue.

Look to these cities/areas for possible conversion (Yes on 8 vote in 2008 – statewide was 52.3%):

  • Central Valley/Foothills/Sierra/Northstate: Dunsmuir (49.2%), Grass Valley (49.8%), unincorporated Yolo County (51.5%), West Sacramento (52.6%)
  • Bay Area & North Coast: Newark (49.0%), Livermore (49.1%), Millbrae (49.2%), Colma (49.3%), Hayward (49.6%), Ferndale (49.6%), Clayton (49.7%), Daly City (49.9%), Fremont (50.0%), Morgan Hill (50.3%), Gilroy (51.2%), Hercules (51.3%), Union City (51.7%), East Palo Alto (51.7%), Lakeport (51.7%), Unincorporated Lake County (51.8%), San Pablo (52.0%), Crescent City (52.1%), Vallejo (52.6%)
  • Central Coast: Marina (49.2%), Watsonville (49.2%), Thousand Oaks (50.4%)
  • Los Angeles County: Avalon (51.2%), Palos Verdes Estates (51.4%), La Canada-Flintridge (51.6%), Monrovia (51.7%)
  • Inland Empire: Rancho Mirage (51.0%)
  • Orange County: Costa Mesa (49.5%), Dana Point (51.1%), Newport Beach (51.3%)
  • San Diego County: La Mesa (50.6%), Carlsbad (51.0%)

If there is a “re-vote” on the marriage equality issue at a future statewide election, which appears likely, then the abortion-minors-parental notification issue (Proposition 85 in 2006, Proposition 4 in 2008) offers a precedent. Proposition 4 had the second-largest number of votes cast for it among the twelve statewide ballot measures in November 2008. The vote was 48.0% Yes-52.0% No. This was a slight improvement for the “yes” vote over a similar measure that appeared on the November 2006 ballot as Proposition 85 (45.8% Yes-54.2% No). Although Proposition 85 (2006)/Proposition 4 (2008) is a “conservative”-sponsored ballot measure, its movement in support in just two years suggests that statewide sentiment is not so ossified on a divisive social issue that a repeat appearance on the ballot in rapid succession can bring about a different outcome.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Michelle Obama’s Commencement Speech at U.C. Merced

First Lady Michelle Obama delivered the commencement address Saturday afternoon at the University of California, Merced. This was the first full senior class graduation ceremony at the tenth campus in the U.C. system. The school admitted its first students in 2005. Press from around the world covered the event. Nevertheless, this was not the first appearance by a First Family member in Merced.

President Jimmy Carter's Town Meeting in Merced: July 4, 1980

On July 4, 1980 (Independence Day), President Jimmy Carter held a town meeting with Merced County residents in the Merced College gymnasium. President Carter spent the previous night at Oakland Mayor Lionel Wilson’s residence and flew in Air Force One to Castle Air Force Base in Atwater (now closed). He took Marine One to Merced College. A transcript of the Merced town meeting is available on the internet courtesy of “The American President Project” at U.C. Santa Barbara.

President Carter, himself a peanut farmer, enjoyed the flight over the fields and orchards of Merced County. He said, “You don't know how it makes a farmer feel – who's been in Washington now for 3 1/2 years, to fly in a helicopter over this beautiful country. Not only do you have the Sierra Nevada Mountains in the background all during your lives, the gateway to Yosemite, and some of the most beautiful earth that was ever created, but the productive land that you have here is also an inspiration to me as a President and also one of the greatest natural resources that we have.”

Referring to the holiday, President Carter said, “What has let our Nation make this progress is the same thing that's important on this Fourth of July here in Merced, and that's the partnership that exists between people and government. And there's no better way to celebrate our birthday, in my opinion, than a direct relationship between the people of this great community and the President of the United States.”

Audience questions during the hour-long event covered a mixture of local, national and international topics, including solar energy, synthetic fuels, the Stanislaus River and New Melones Dam, the use of cruise missiles against the U.S.S.R., the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the hostage situation at the U.S. embassy in Iran, welfare and health care reform, immigration, American image and strength and racial minority progress.

An eleven-year old Merced girl asked a question about the U.S. boycott of the summer Olympic games in Moscow. President Carter replied, “I'm sorry this happened, but there are times when our country must stand for principle and for what is [r]ight.”

The president also joked with a persimmon farmer, seeking a personal connection. “We grow wild persimmons on my farm in Georgia. I've eaten them all my life,” he said.

This was President Carter’s 19th town meeting. Carter then flew from Merced to Modesto for a Democratic National Committee fundraising brunch at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Frank Damrell; Mr. Damrell was a local attorney. Marine One landed at Christine Sipherd Elementary School in Modesto. Congressman Tony Coehlo, who represented Merced and Stanislaus counties, was his escort for most of the day. Following the Modesto event, the President raced across the country to Miami to address the 71st annual N.A.A.C.P. convention. President Carter’s diary for July 4, 1980 is on the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library website.

Then-Senator John F. Kennedy made a short speech in Merced during the 1960 presidential campaign. It was part of Kennedy’s two-day “whistle stop” train campaign through the Central Valley and Bay Area, inspired by a similar trip by President Harry Truman in 1948 that helped to wrest the state from the Republican Dewey-Warren ticket. Kennedy began in Dunsmuir on September 8th and spoke from the rear train platform in Redding, Red Bluff, Chico, Marysville, Sacramento, Martinez and Richmond en route to the Civic Auditorium in Oakland. On September 9th, he spoke from the rear platform in Stockton, Modesto, Turlock, Merced, Madera, Fresno and Tulare en route to the Bakersfield airport. He spoke that night at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles. He campaigned in Los Angeles and San Diego the following two days, before leaving for Texas where he gave his famous religion speech in Houston. His opponent Richard Nixon stopped in Fresno the Friday before the election (he had to cancel his Bakersfield visit) and won California narrowly.

City of Merced: A Presidential Election Bellwether

U.C. Merced students launched an aggressive, multimedia promotional campaign to woo First Lady Michelle Obama to speak at the graduation ceremony. One factor possibly influencing her decision to attend is the fact that the city of Merced and the greater San Joaquin Valley are a presidential election bellwether. In the past five presidential elections (1992, 1996, 2000, 2004, 2008), the cities of Merced, Modesto, Madera and Fresno have voted for the national winner.

Barack Obama won all six cities in Merced County (Merced, Atwater, Livingston, Los Banos, Dos Palos and Gustine), a feat that was last accomplished by Hubert Humphrey in the close 1968 presidential contest against Richard Nixon and George Wallace. The San Joaquin Valley was heavily Democratic in the mid-20th century. Although Merced County overall is now a “swing” or “toss up” area, Livingston (the “sweet potato capital”) has voted Democratic in every presidential election after 1960. Presidents Nixon and Ronald Reagan failed to sweep all Merced County cities in their 1972 and 1984 re-election landslides. President Carter won Livingston and Los Banos in 1980, but lost Merced (the site of his town meeting) to Reagan. In 2008, Obama won Atwater, which had eluded Bill Clinton in the 1990’s, along with the county’s other five cities.

U.C. Merced Grand Opening in 2005: Governor Schwarzenegger's Snub

College grand openings and first graduations make for good political events. On Labor Day in 1995, for example, President Bill Clinton inaugurated the California State University, Monterey Bay campus before attending the Alameda County AFL-CIO Labor Day picnic in Pleasanton. A major factor behind President Clinton’s decision to dedicate the CSU-Monterey Bay campus was the fact that his then-Chief of Staff Leon Panetta is a Monterey County native who ultimately located his Panetta Institute for Public Policy there.

Nonetheless, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger declined an invitation to dedicate the U.C. Merced campus on Labor Day in 2005 and received much criticism for it. In an apparent effort to quell the bad press, the Governor made a hastily scheduled visit to the U.C. Merced campus a few days before it opened.