The results of the special election for California’s Congressional District 34, a seat left vacant by Attorney General Xavier Becerra, gave Latinos and Democrats further cause for concern over the voter participation of Latinos. The early voter turnout numbers, which at last count stood at about 10 percent of registered voters, would justify anyone’s concern, and pundits will rightfully point to the low level of voter turnout.
But there were also reasons for optimism.
First, the good. At least 14 Latino candidates ran for office to fill the open Congressional seat, bringing a mix of options to the voters. From up-and-comers like Jimmy Gomez rising through the party, to community activists like Maria Cabildo and Wendy Carrillo, all of these young Latinos show great promise to resume their impact on Los Angeles politics after this election and they will surely continue to have an influence on California and beyond.
This election also brought a strong slate of women candidates in the heavily Latino district. More importantly, Cabildo, Carrillo, Yolie Flores, and Sarah Hernandez were women with a strong range of experience in Los Angeles politics.
The bad news depends on what you expected from this election. Bernie Sanders supporters had a candidate in Arturo Carmona that they could throw their support behind, but Carmona performed poorly for a candidate who positioned himself as the anti-establishment choice.
Sanders visited Los Angeles in February and left without making an endorsement for Carmona, which didn’t help, and accusations of sexism sullied his image on the eve of the election.
The accusations, juxtaposed with the slate of women candidates, is a further reminder that gender will continue to be a strong undercurrent in politics. It shouldn’t go unmentioned that Sander’s campaign gained considerate strength from the spirited anti-Hillary sentiment of his supporters, which is still eliciting debate about feminism, generational differences, and its effect on politics.
The two winners who will move on to the general election are Jimmy Gomez and Robert Lee Ahn.
Which leaves us with the ugly part of this election. Jan Brewer, the former Governor of Arizona who rode a wave of anti-immigrant sentiment to office, dismissed Latino voters last year when asked if she was worried if Donald Trump would bring Latino voters out to the voting booth on election day. "Nah," she said, "They don't get out and vote. They don't vote."
In the era of Donald Trump, where families are being targeted for deportation, where the push for a wall on our southern border continues to ridicule our heritage, and where the Republicans are pushing for policies that will put Latino bodies in danger, from the latest health care debate to Attorney General Sessions announcing he will suspend investigations against police departments for civil rights violations, one might think a strong Latino district of three hundred thousand voters, most of who are Latinos, could muster more than 29 thousand votes.
True, almost 70 percent of those votes went to Latino candidates, and Gomez has been the strong favorite to win the seat in the run-off, from the beginning. But any hopes that this election would send a strong message to Republicans in Washington D.C. were dashed by the poor turnout.
That said, one would have to assume that Latinos weren’t already being targeted, denigrated, and oppressed by our immigration system and our police forces before Donald Trump. Sheriff Lee Baca of Los Angeles County was recently found guilty of obstructing a federal investigation of corruption and abuses in his jails. Last I checked, Donald Trump wasn’t President when Baca, nor his predecessor Sherman Block, was allowed to tear through the Latino community along with their colleague Daryl Gates.
The ugly truth is Donald Trump is not a departure from reality, but business as usual for Latinos. This election, while showing glimmers of promise, should not detract us from that reality.