“So I ask myself,” said Rep. Henry Waxman, “how do you get out of this?”
The veteran Westside congressman was talking about how to avoid a battle in the San Fernando Valley between his friend Rep. Howard Berman and Rep, Brad Sherman for the 30th congressional district created by the state reapportionment commission. The commission gave Berman’s old district a Latino majority to create a Latino seat in the Valley. The commissioners moved Berman into the new 30th with Sherman. The percentage of Latino voters in that district is 16 percent.
Waxman had called me to complain about my Jewish Journal column on the race in which I wrote that the only way a Berman-Sherman fight could be avoided was “if one or the other made the suicidal choice of moving to another nearby district, which neither would have much of a chance of winning.”
It so happens that the choice I termed as “suicidal” was precisely the choice Waxman has in mind—Sherman pulling out of the 30th District race and running in a Ventura County district, some of which he has represented in the past. The new district, with no incumbent, is 42 percent Democratic and 35 percent Republican.
It’s not suicidal at all, Waxman said. President Barack Obama carried the area by double digits, he said, and Gov. Jerry Brown lost it by just one point in his election campaign, He estimated Sherman’s campaign war chest at $4 million. Rather than have Sherman and Berman spend up to $10 million between them Waxman would like Sherman to use his money to win the Ventura County seat and give the Democrats another seat in the House. “He would be doing a great service to the Democrats,” Waxman said. He conceded it is “not a great Democratic district, but the well-funded Sherman could win it.
“If we have this race between two Jewish Democrats, it is not because of Howard, it is because Brad chooses it,” Waxman said Sherman, he said, “could do the party a favor, he could do the Jewish community a favor and keep himself in Congress without this unnecessary battle.” He said, “I would like to see both of them returned to Congress”, but if there is a contest, he supports Berman.
Sherman doesn’t seem to value such advice. He is lining up endorsements, distributing polling results that he says show him ahead, working the grassroots and energetically communicating news of all this to the media.
Meanwhile, Sherman found himself under heavy fire for recommending that President Barack Obama appoint former Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante ambassador to India. The criticism came from journalists ranging from my LA Observed colleague John Schwada to the Sacramento Bee editorial board. The Bee in an editorial said Sherman ‘just earned himself place in the Pandering Politician Hall of Fame” by backing Bustamante in an effort to influence “large numbers” of Latino voters in the district. Actually, the Bee overstated the numbers of Latinos in the district,
Sherman told me “he proposed Bustamante on the suggestion of “Indo-American organizations in my district.” He said he “did this early in the spring” before he knew he would be in such a tight race. Sherman said he supported Bustamante when he ran for governor, and Bustamante is backing him over Berman. Traditionally, he said, the ambassador to India is a not a diplomat, but someone important in the political or business world.
“I suppose Brad feels it will help him with Hispanics,” commented Waxman.
Do Latinos tend to vote only for Latinos? Do non-Latinos generally vote against Hispanic political candidates? Those racially charged questions are behind the current struggle over drawing new districts for Los Angeles County’s five supervisors.
The supervisors are required to change the boundaries of their districts every 10 years to take into account population changes. The federal Voting Rights Act requires the district lines to be drawn so they do not deny minorities a chance of winning elections. Those protected by the act include African Americans, Asian Americans and Latinos.
In 1991, a federal court ruled that the Los Angeles County supervisors denied Latinos a chance to be elected to the board. The court found that supervisors, all white, purposefully gerrymandered districts so that Latinos were a minority in each of them, a Voting Rights Act violation. As a result, district lines were redrawn, a constituency with a Latino majority was created, and Gloria Molina was elected to the board of supervisors.
Over the years, the Latino population has increased. Latinos now constitute 48 percent of the county’s 9.8 million residents, with whites 28 percent, Asian Americans 14 percent and African Americans 8 percent. With the growth of that population, Latino groups, supported by Supervisor Mark Ridley Thomas, who is African American, are pressing for the creation of a second supervisorial district where more than 50 percent of the population would be Latinos eligible to vote.
Creation of such a district would come at the expense of veteran Supervisor Don Knabe, who is white. It would do this by removing from his district largely white areas along the coast where he has strong support and give him more Latinos.
Advocates for a second Latino majority district have produced studies of many elections in which whites vote for whites and Latinos for Latinos. “The data and election results make clear that, when given a chance in a primary or non-partisan election, non-Latinos tend to vote against Latino candidates in all reaches of Los Angeles County, while Latinos vote strongly in favor,” University of Washington Professor Matt A. Barreto said in a study submitted to the county.
Those on the other side note the election of Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Sheriff Lee Baca, Latinos. “Frankly, the notion that non-minorities won’t vote for a minority candidate in L.A. County is antiquated. Los Angeles in 2011 is not the same as the Los Angeles of forty, thirty or even twenty years ago. Our county is politically and socially far more mature and broad-minded.” said Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky.
Are voters color blind? Or do the supervisors, knowing Latinos vote for Latinos, want to continue splitting up the Hispanic vote to protect Knabe and others who might face a Latino challenge?