Elections 2018, A Follow-up

This was a very exciting U.S. election season, in its own way, even more so than the 2016 presidential cycle that brought to unchecked power the worst president in the country’s history. I’ve been asked if I’m happy with the results. My response: “I’m satisfied.”

There is good news and bad on the state (specifically California) and federal levels that I will address. Also, please note that this piece was written on Sunday, November 11, before all results are in, with a few minor edits made later, so some results may have changed in the interim.

The best news for me is the passage of Florida’s Amendment 4 which re-enfranchises (restores the vote to) former felons. In Florida, if you serve time, you lose the right to vote as in other states. Unlike other states, though, you do not automatically, or through some administrative process, get back the right to vote once you’ve served your sentence. In fact, the only way you can get the right to vote back is if the sitting governor restores it to you after you petition her/him to do so. This was found unconstitutional by a judge recently and the matter was put on the ballot and 64% of Floridians agreed the problem should be corrected. This change is seen as a boon to Democrats, and it seems rational that it would be so, but something visceral, not rational, is making me hesitate in fully accepting that conclusion. We’ll find out one way or the other in two years. The other aspect of this outcome that is very heartening is that it goes against the efforts of many Republican-controlled jurisdictions to suppress election participation by making it difficult to vote among constituencies that tend to vote for Democrats.

Since we’re in Florida, let’s continue there with the senate and gubernatorial races that are EXTREMELY close and may end up in automatic recounts based on state law. Unfortunately, President Trump is muddying the waters with ill-considered comments that cast doubt upon the legitimacy of the ballots that have not yet been counted. That’s unsurprising coming from him. But for his fellow Republicans to allow this kind of tarnishing can only demonstrate their hypocrisy, power hunger, and blindness to how that might come back to bite-them-in-the-behind (as happened to their fellow partisan in Wisconsin, see below). Let all the votes be counted and abide by the results, simple. Attempts to stop the counts through the courts are abominable.

It seems Florida wants to retain its notoriety when it comes to major glitches in election processes. No doubt you remember the infamous “hanging chads” in the 2000 elections. Now, one of the heavily populated counties, Broward, is the focus of attention because a lot of people seem not to have voted for Senator as a result of poor ballot design! Plus, three statewide races – for U.S. Senator, Governor, and Agriculture commissioner, along with three state legislative seats are now in a machine recount because they leading candidates had vote tallies within .5% of one another (Florida law dictates this recount, and if they end up being .25% apart, a manual recount must be done).

Moving to the neighboring state, Georgia, we have a similarly close gubernatorial race. This one has been marred by the questionable behavior of one of the candidates, Kemp (a Republican), who as the sitting Secretary of State “suspended” registration of 53,000 voters. This was done because there wasn’t an “exact match” with pre-existing records, perhaps something as minor as a missing hyphen in the registrant’s name. Supposedly, these people were to be allowed to vote, but because their status complicates things and their names don’t appear alongside other voters’, many have complained of being turned away. This is an example of the voter suppression I mentioned above. Some 70% of these “suspensions” were black citizens, whereas Georgia’s population is only 32% black. Kemp’s Democratic opponent, Abrams, is black. Do you see any cause for concern? Despite this and other problems, such as long lines caused by too few voting machines in Democratic leaning precincts, the split between the two candidates currently stands at 1.5%. If it goes below 1%, then there will be a new election held December 4.  Since the day after the election when I started tracking the late-counted votes, they have been breaking 73%-27% in Abrams favor which puts her within striking range of that 1% threshold, if the number of uncounted ballots is as high as she asserts. Of course Kemp claims otherwise and Trump is chiming in with misleading comments on this race too.

Arizona has a very tight Senate race, too, though it looks like the Democratic candidate is ever so slowly pulling ahead as the remaining ballots are counted. This, along with Florida’s, will determine how much cushioning Republicans will be able to add to their majority in the Senate, so everyone is hell-bent on winning for their side. Adding to this tension is Mississippi where another runoff is coming on November 27. This one is to complete the last two years of a Senate term. Once again, this is a cushion question. It seems more likely the Republican will win, but there’s some uncertainty.

Why are there so many close races? Only 37 votes separate the two candidates in Florida’s State House district 89. California has a number of tight races for the House of Representatives, and the Washington Post as of November 10 deemed thirteen races for that body to be very close. In my mind, there are two, somewhat overlapping reasons. One of those, which has been getting the lion’s share of attention, is President Trump, whose extremism, coupled with a very personalized, not professionalized, mode of leading, has galvanized much opposition, and to be fair – support, too. The other is that the Democratic Party finally seems to be taking organizing a little more seriously, particularly its more left-leaning segment, and not allowing the kinds of very clever, though somewhat underhanded, tactics used by the Republican Party to go unchallenged. Of course this kind of tightness in the races creates opportunity for Armenians to make a difference. Imagine, even a few families who otherwise would not vote could get together and be the deciding factor in the election noted above with a 37-vote difference!

One of the best outcomes of this election, for me, is the ejection of Scott Walker from the Wisconsin governorship. This guy has been nothing but bad news for workers in that state. His first actions were union-busting. Then his state gerrymandered its electoral districts badly enough that the matter is still in the courts, even after a Supreme Court setback last summer. He capped his career by spending billions of state dollars to pay for jobs that never materialized. But the delicious comeuppance he suffered this election is that he will not be able to ask for a recount because of a law he supported and signed which limited the ability of candidates in Wisconsin to demand a recount. Now, only those within 1% of the winning candidate can ask for a recount. This was likely done out of the vindictiveness he is noted for in response to 2016 Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein’s asking for a recount.

Texas also had a good strong showing by the Democratic candidate for governor despite ultimately losing. This has to have Republicans in that state quaking in their boots given the demographic time bomb in their midst. The Latino vote there is growing, and the Republicans’ behavior has been alienating this constituency for decades. We may see some drastic changes in state-level outcomes over the course of the next few election cycles in that state. Then, the gerrymandering of the last two decades will likely fall. Extreme gerrymandering by Republicans is another contributing factor to Democratic intensity, since governors and state senators elected this year will have a role to play in the redistricting that will happen after the 2020 U.S. Census.

And now, California. A number of Congressional districts were hotly contested in former Republican bastions, some flipped, contributing to the Democrats gaining the majority in the House of Representatives. But more important to me were two of the measures that did not pass, Props 8 and 10. Of the eleven measures on the ballot, six went the way I had recommended. But these two, I suspect, fell victim to the fear and confusion sown by the interests that opposed them. These outcomes will hurt people. Prop 8 sought to rein in outlandish pricing for dialysis treatments. But the companies making billions spent more than $111 million, a new record, according to a San Francisco Chronicle November 3 news item. I have no doubt that with last minute expenditures, that figure will climb. What’s that tell you?  Yet the “No on 8” campaign threatened loss of service. Who wouldn’t respond to that? Too bad.

Prop 10 was the rent control measure. Once again, it was fear tactics that led people to oppose it, along with a geographic component. I spot checked a few counties’ vote tallies on this measure. The more dense and urban counties tended to have a more favorable result than the less dense and rural counties. This makes sense since stratospheric rental prices are more likely in cities than agricultural areas. But the threats of “vacancy control” and not being able to raise rents to market rates after a rent controlled tenant moves out scared people. Yet these two problems (and indeed they are problems) were nowhere to be found in the proposition. All it did was enable local jurisdictions to enact rent control.  The details, including vacancy control, sum to be paid to move tenants out, subletting, and resetting to market rates are all issues that would have been decided by local authorities after considering all aspects. But, that was too much fairness for those currently making a killing off a tight housing market. I suggest reading “No, rent control doesn’t always reduce the supply of housing” by Gary Painter that appeared in the October 31 LATimes.

Finally, I’m happy to report that on the local level, important tax measures passed in LA County (Measure W), Pasadena (I & J), Burbank (P), and Glendale(S). Unfortunately, Burbank Schools’ Measure QS, which required a 2/3 majority for passage, failed by getting only 62.01%. The elections administrative corrections (Measures E and EE) in the city and school district of Los Angeles passed. Unfortunately, Measure B enabling the city to found a municipal bank failed, but, it was a start. This type of institution has many benefits and will eventually be accepted as people learn more about it.

By way of closing thoughts, first I want to apologize for neglecting to make recommendations on the California State Board of Equalization positions. Second, I want to address an old dilemma that made a strong appearance in this election. It is the clash of our ideological vs Armenian concerns. This was present when George Deukmejian ran for Governor and Democratic Armenians had to make a tough choice, when Nayiri Nahabedian and Republican Armenians were in a bind, when even un-viable candidates who happen to be Armenian run against otherwise Armenian friendly candidates, and numerous other cases. The least we can do is to bite our tongues when a viable Armenian candidate who happens to be on the opposite end of the political spectrum from ourselves runs. Of course if such a candidate is espousing positions that are directly harmful to Armenian interests, reconsideration would be in order. But for the most part, since we need more role models for our up and coming generations, the Armenian factor is not something to be casually dismissed, at least for the time being.

Next up in elections is our homeland on December 9. But both there and here, always, vote, vote, vote!

Garen Yegparian

Garen Yegparian

Asbarez Columnist
Garen Yegparian is a fat, bald guy who has too much to say and do for his own good. So, you know he loves mouthing off weekly about anything he damn well pleases to write about that he can remotely tie in to things Armenian. He's got a checkered past: principal of an Armenian school, project manager on a housing development, ANC-WR Executive Director, AYF Field worker (again on the left coast), Operations Director for a telecom startup, and a City of LA employee most recently (in three different departments so far). Plus, he's got delusions of breaking into electoral politics, meanwhile participating in other aspects of it and making sure to stay in trouble. His is a weekly column that appears originally in Asbarez, but has been republished to the Armenian Weekly for many years.
Garen Yegparian

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