It's Ain't Screwy Voting Districts Killing Latino Political Power in OC; It's the Democratic Party

Solorio: Former rising star, then the status quo--and now done
Solorio: Former rising star, then the status quo--and now done

Over the past two weeks, much has been written about how former supervisor/state senator/state assemblymember/Lou Sheldon bitch Lou Correa lost the First Supervisorial District race to former Garden Grove councilmember Andrew Do. Coming a couple of months after a disastrous 2014 Election Day that saw Sharon Quirk-Silva lose her State Senate race to Young Kim and Jose Solorio lose handily to Janet Nguyen in the race for Correa's old State Senate seat, and it's been a bitter pill for Democrats but especially OC Latinos, who now find themselves without a wab representative in Sacramento or on the Board of Supervisors for the first time since 1998.

The most popular angle taken by local media and pundits is that Correa and Solorio should've won handily because the district they ran in have a lot of Mexicans in it, but those damn Vietnamese voters in Little Saigon just vote too darn much! For Correa supporters, the main culprit is a 2011 gerrymandering scheme by the all-Republican Board of Supervisors at the time (don't accuse me of exaggerating--no less a conservative lion than then-Supervisor John Moorlach called it "gerrymandering") that diluted Latino voting power in the First by bringing in more Little Saigon voters--you know, those voters who vote too much. Both Latino yaktivists and Democratic Party officials are now mumbling about a possible lawsuit using California's Voting Rights Act to correct the First's alleged wrong and ensure Latino wins in the future. That's fine and all, but that stance will let off the hook the biggest reason why OC electoral gains in higher office for Latinos have now been effectively rolled back two decades: the pendejos running the Democratic Party of Orange County.

Let's go back to the heady days of 1996, when Loretta Sanchez pulled off her legendary upset over Bob Dornan, Nativo Lopez was raising righteous hell, the vendido Gaddi Vasquez was embarrassed out of electoral politics forever, and Correa narrowly lost to then-Assemblymember Jim Morrissey. In those post-Proposition 187 days, Latinos were the future for the Democratic Party, and officials up and down the state began grooming candidates in earnest. It paid off in OC for the next four years, with the election of Lopez to the SanTana Unified School District board of trustees, Correa to the Assembly, and the 2000 elections of Rose Espinoza to the La Habra City Council and Jose Solorio and Claudia Alvarez to the SanTana council.

With those five candidates (and the election of Richard Chavez to the Anaheim City Council in 2002), it seemed that Latino political power was strong enough to ensure that North County would turn bluer than indigo. But instead of building on this core, Democratic Party leaders let this advantage disintegrate by allowing intra-party sniping and promoting gabacho politicians instead of Latinos. Lopez was recalled in 2003, not just because of his hubris (like cutting a deal with Curt Pringle where Pringle supported Lopez's rallying around Gigante, while Lopez and other Latino leaders allowed Pringle to run for Anaheim mayor--guess who won that one?) but also through the help of SanTana Mayor Miguel Pulido--a Democrat who felt threatened by Lopez's populist bent. When Correa won his first supervisorial race, Alvarez was expected to win as his heir apparent--yet Democratic leadership brought back a blast from the past, Tom Umberg, to beat her in the 2004 primary (in retrospect, this was a good thing, as Alvarez is an evil, vindictive harpy).

When Correa sought to replace termed-out state senator Joe Dunn in 2006, it was Democratic Party leaders who asked Umberg to run and asked Correa to stand down; Correa beat him down. Those same Dum leaders rallied behind Umberg to replace Correa in the 2007 special supervisorial election; Umberg, of course, lost handily to Janet Nguyen and another Vietnamese candidate in an election that launched the Little Saigon political super-machine. Espinoza, meanwhile, ran for the Fourth Supervisorial District seat in 2010, losing handily--not just because no one outside of La Habra knows her, but because two other prominent Democrats were on the ballot.

The only Latinos to move up the electoral ranks to Sacramento or the Board of Supervisors over the past 20 years, then, have been Correa and Solorio--and this is probably the time to mention that the two were hardly popular among Latinos due to their moderate politics, which meant voters never felt any loyalty to them and thus doomed them to their recent losses. Instead of grooming young progressive Latinos to eventually replace them, the Dems went gabacho: former Anaheim mayor Tom Daly replaced Solorio in 2012, beating out SanTana councilmember Michele Martinez and current OC Labor Federation head Julio Perez. Being groomed to replace Daly one day? Anaheim councilmember Jordan Brandman. And being groomed to take Brandman's place in the OC Dem hierarchy? Current Centralia School District trustee Connor Traut, a Chapman undergrad who might be the only person in human history to ever move from Ladera Ranch to Buena Park and think that a wise decision.

Meanwhile, the Democrat Party's rising Latino stars? No one.  

An OC Democratic party dream team--a gabacho, and a Republican "Mexican"
An OC Democratic party dream team--a gabacho, and a Republican "Mexican"
Photo by Gabriel San Blogman

Indeed, when former Anaheim City School Trustee (and 2012 OC Scariest People honoree) Jose Moreno registered as a Democrat last year to run for Anaheim city council, in a year where district elections (an issue that Moreno heavily advocated for) were on the ballot, his efforts got torpedoed not just by Brandman (who endorsed his pendeja Republican colleagues Kris Murray and Gail Eastman) but also by Correa, who did the same as Brandman. A strong Democratic Party leadership would've whipped Brandman and Correa into shape (as the OC GOP does to great effect); instead, Party chair Henry Vandemeir presided over a disastrous Election Day and a bleak future in Central County for his party, one that Latinos have little part in (SanTana councilmember Vince Sarmiento? Meh.) Democratic Party apologists can whine and blame the Republicans all they want, but the inconvenient facts are there: The Democratic Party of Orange County has failed Latinos wholesale.

Why hasn't the Democratic Party of Orange County created a pipeline of Latino candidates? The only explanation is laziness--they assume that Latinos will always vote for a Latino candidate, and that they could recycle Correa and Solorio forever. Evidence of that is in Vandemeir's laughable anger at Perez last summer because Perez dared to tell the Weekly that the Labor Fed wouldn't support Democratic candidates just because they're Democrats. Thank God such a pandering, patronizing strategy came to bite the Dems in the culo via voter apathy and led to the party's current existential crisis. And by the way, I'm not the only lefty Latino casting a conspiratorial view against the Democratic Party's treatment of Latinos in California. The big California political story in this young year is the virtual crowning of attorney general Kamala Harris to take Senator Barbara Boxer's seat, a move that has angered Latino Democrats who want to push one of their own for a shot (most are rallying around former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, but I'd prefer Congressman Xavier Becerra, an outspoken progressive with none of the personal baggage Villaraigosa carries).

Come on, naranjeros: it's high time ustedes break free from the shackles of the Democratic Party and register Green or Peace and Freedom or Libertarian or--hell--bring back the Raza Unida Party. Scare those pinche Dems into finally respecting us. In the meanwhile, any voting rights lawsuit that doesn't name the Democratic Party of Orange County as a defendant will be as effective as trying to catch a rat with a picture of a cat.

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Email: garellano@ocweekly.com. Twitter: @gustavoarellano.

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