Elder’s candidacy is not a bad joke

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By Earl Ofari Hutchinson

Contributing Columnist

Black radio talk show host Larry Elder should be a bad joke but he isn’t. The one person who knows that is the man Elder is trying to unseat in the September California governor recall.

That’s Gov. Gavin Newsom. He has sent out a flurry of emails attacking Elder and asking for money.

At first glance, the recall election should be slapstick comedy. The Republican Party, for all practical purposes, is close to being a weak-kneed third-party masquerading as a major party in California.

It represents less than a quarter of the state’s voters. It is a super-minority in the state Legislature. It holds not a single statewide office. It hasn’t elected a U.S. senator in decades.

In the 2020 presidential election, President Donald Trump barely received more than 30% of the state’s vote. But that first glance is dangerously deceptive about the recall and Elder.

The recall effort collected more than two million signatures. Though many were tossed out as invalid, the signatures were not all from right-wing Republicans. There aren’t that many of them in the state.

There were a lot of independents and Democrats who signed the petitions, too. They signed for many reasons, claiming to have beefs of one sort or another with Newsom.

In fact, the ease with which anti-Newsom opponents got the nearly two million-plus signatures was an early warning signal that there were a lot of Californians, not all right wing nuts, who for a variety of reasons were discontent with or even hostile to Newsom.

The contentious issues ranged from his tough COVID stance of shutting down California, which legions of small businesses vehemently fought with demonstrations and legal challenges. There was his liberal tout of sweeping criminal justice system reforms, including a moratorium on the death penalty. There’s his perceived penchant to tax and freely spend on Democratic pet concerns.

Newsom early on acknowledged that the recall would happen. In an interview or two, he dared muse that he could be an ex-governor. Even California Sen. Dianne Feinstein quipped “it could go either way.”

So, here’s why Feinstein and Newsom are worried about Elder. Start with the long-standing myth that California is the state that’s the perfect typecast of liberalism and progressivism.

Big swaths of northern, central and eastern California, and that includes pockets in Los Angeles County, are as deep red as Alabama. The voters are rock-solid Trumpites, Republican and proud red-blooded, flag-waving patriots who rail against liberal stances on everything from defunding police to tax and spend budgets.

Though the state went reliably blue in the 2016 presidential election, Trump still received millions of votes in the state. He might not have been far off in his boast that if he had seriously campaigned in the state, he could have made it competitive for him and the GOP.

California voters, by wide margins, have repeatedly voted for tough criminal justice measures, including the death penalty and three strikes, against many tax increase proposals for education and social services, and affirmative action initiatives.

Recalling liberal Democrats is not an aberration. California Supreme Court Chief Justice Rose Bird was handily recalled in 1986 and Gov. Gray Davis was recalled in 2003. The issue with Bird was her perceived softness on crime and her progressive stance on criminal justice issues.

Arnold Schwarzenegger not only won the recall election for governor in 2003 but was handily reelected. He carried on the tradition of the state electing Republican song-and-dance guys, namely Ronald Reagan and George Murphy, to governor and U.S. senator, respectively.

Unlike nearly all the other candidates on the recall ballot, Elder has solid name recognition from his decades as a right-wing gabber on local and national radio and TV talk shows. Being a loud, brash, controversial Black conservative makes him the ideal pitchman for Republican interests to back.

Always sensitive to the charge that the GOP is racist, they’ve poured lots of cash into his campaign. There is no real reason to think that thousands of rightists, even racist whites wouldn’t vote for Elder if they view him as a Black man that mouths their biases. Elder is a proven master at that game.

There’s also the perception and resentment among many Blacks and Hispanics that state Democrats, including Newsom, take their votes for granted, and do not keep them informed or engage them on legislation and initiatives. The truth is that Democrats do a poor job of messaging even on their initiatives that do much to aid minorities and the poor.

Elder and the recall should be yet another wake-up call for the Democrats to take nothing for granted, to not be smug, complacent and comfortable with their seeming control of the state’s political machine.

That’s the message that Elder for governor in a perverse, back-door way sends, no matter whether Newsom, as expected wins. Elder should be but isn’t a bad joke.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is the author of “Bring Back the Poll Tax! — The GOP War on Voting Rights” (Middle Passage Press). He also is the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KPFK 90.7 FM Los Angeles and the Pacifica Network.

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