Random commentary and senseless acts of blogging.
The first Republican president once said, "While the people retain their virtue and their vigilance, no administration by any extreme of wickedness or folly can seriously injure the government in the short space of four years." If Mr. Lincoln could see what's happened in these last three-and-a-half years, he might hedge a little on that statement.
Prisoners of Azkaban
Tuesday, October 15, 2002
Warm San Francisco Right
Lowell Ponte, writing in the always reliable Horowitz mouthpiece Front Page, asserts that San Francisco is moving to the right and Glenn Reynolds asks if it's true. Putting the headline into the lead graf: no.
If San Francisco, or the Bay Area region as a whole, are now tilting conservative, it's a phenomenon that doesn't show up at the polls. The Republican party is nearly uniformly unsuccessful in local elections. This page listing local congressmen shows 11 Democrats and 2 Republicans. To find those Republicans, the list had to go far afield from the Bay Area. They are Wally Herger (District 2) whose district covers the northeastern state and comes nowhere near to the Bay Area, and Doug Ose whose district is centered in the Sacramento Valley, but includes a chunk of Solano County. Solano County does touch on the Carquinez Strait, part of San Francisco Bay, but Ose's district doesn't.
In the California legislature, it's the same pattern. This page shows 25 Democrats and 3 Republicans. Of the Republicans, one lists his office in Redding, far outside the Bay Area, while Bruce McPherson's district includes major chunks of Monterey and San Benito counties. That leaves Lynn Leach as the only Republican, along with 30+ Democrats, whose district is entirely in the Bay Area.
Is there a historical trend towards Republicans? Comparing the Gore vote in 2000 with the votes in the last close election of 1976 shows the opposite. I used the data on the excellent presidential elections page of Dave Liep.
Carter, who fought hard for California, didn't carry most Bay Area counties, and he lost the state. Gore took California for granted and decided to focus on closer states. Bush spent millions on TV ads here which Gore never countered. Gore won the state by 1.3 million votes, beat Carter's percentage in every Bay county by 10% or more, ran up almost a 5 - 1 victory in San Francisco itself, and had landslide margins throughout the Bay Area. Nader won almost half as many SF votes as Bush.
Ponte also finds evidence in some propositions on the San Francisco November ballot. But these propositions come more from local business and landlord lobbies than the grassroots, and their support is unclear until they have been voted on. Furthermore, in spite of Ponte's claim that they represent a radical shift to the right, a claim echoed by the left-wing SF Bay Guardian, the content of the propositions doesn't seem to justify such language. According to the Department of Elections summary, Proposition R would allow about 85,000 apartments to undergo condo conversion over 25 years, if landlords wishing to convert met all of the following tests:
Prop N, aimed at homelessness, looks harsher. It reduces the obviously problematic practice of giving cash payments to homeless persons, most of whom are addicted to drugs and/or alcohol, but seems to offer only existing services, rather than improved ones, as a substitute.
Ponte has observed one final trend that he claims must make California liberals shudder:
The liberal San Francisco Chronicle trembles and prays for forgiveness of its faults to San Andreas as it reports more and more signs that Northern California’s tectonic rightward drift seems irreversible. California’s demographics are realigning the Golden State’s political polarization from north-south to east-west and leaving its politics fragmented along new fault lines that threaten to shake the Leftist establishment down.
The trend is real, but the very article Ponte cites shows that it's conservatives who should be shuddering. The broader trend that Ponte tries to twist into a conservative story is outright catastrophic for Republicans. Previously Democratic rural areas in the the northern regions of the Central Vally and Sierra Nevadas now have gone Republican. (Gun control is probably the biggest factor.) But the Democratic majority in suburban parts of the Bay Area that were once competitive has become huge, while even worse news for Republicans is that urban and suburban regions in more heavily populated Soutern California have gone Democratic.
What does that mean in statewide electoral terms? Going back to to Gore-Carter comparison, Gore won only 9 counties that Carter lost. Carter won 17 counties that Gore lost, and Bush won several of those former Carter counties by lopsided margins. But 10 of those 17 counties cast 25,000 total votes or less, ranging all the way down to Sierra's 1,847 votes. Only Fresno cast over 130,000. Five of the six counties switching columns that cast 150,000 votes or more went to Gore. The largest counties that switched, Contra Costa, San Mateo, and Santa Clara, had a combined total of almost 1.2 million votes, and a combined Gore margin of over 300,000. (San Mateo and Santa Clara are incidentally the heart of the supposedly more conservative Silicon Valley.) Carter's 30,000 vote San Francisco margin became Gore's 190,000, while the Democratic margin in LA increased from 50,000 to 850,000 - that 800,000 vote increase being roughly the same as the total munber of votes cast in all of the 17 counties that switched Republican. In Orange and San Diego, the two most populous counties that went Republican each time, Gore lost by much smaller margins than Carter did.
So Ponte's citation of a poll showing that SF is now more conservative on many issues than LA means not that SF is moving to the right, but that LA, which casts roughly 25% of the vote for the state and almost 3% for the entire US, has tilted decisively to the left. At the same time, most of the rural counties of Northern California are moving to the right, and some of the already right-tilting rural areas are moving farther right. The North/South divide left the state as a whole leaning mildly to the right. The new East/West division puts both of California's most populous regions on the same side and means a heavy tilt to the left.
This November, California will elect leaders in 7 statewide partisan offices, including Governor. At one point in the Reagan years, Republicans held all but one statewide office. Even getting pounded in 1998, they held on to two of them. This year, neither incumbent Republican is up for re-election and I predict they will be shut out, something that may have happened in the New Deal era, but hasn't in my lifetime.