WAGING WAR ON BIG MONEY-When it ruled Monday that California lawmakers can ask for voters’ opinions on campaign-spending laws, the state Supreme Court underscored “that the ultimate power of our government is vested in the people,” Common Cause senior vice president Karen Hobert Flynn declared in the wake of the decision.

By upholding the legality of Proposition 49 -- which would ask voters whether Congress should propose an amendment overturning the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision known as Citizens United   -- the court spoke “directly to the question we have faced since the Citizens United ruling,” Hobert Flynn continued. “Are we a democracy of, by, and for the people, or are we to be ruled by an elite, moneyed class, where the power of government rests in the hands of a few wealthy special interests?”

The San Jose Mercury News reported on the 6-1 decision:

The California Supreme Court on Monday for the most part upheld the state Legislature’s power to put nonbinding, advisory measures on the ballot -- allowing state politicians to essentially test the waters on issues with voters without actually enacting new laws. The justices left some questions unanswered as to how far the Legislature can go in using such measures in the future.

The unprecedented legal test stems from Proposition 49, a measure removed from the November 2014 ballot by the state’s high court that sought voter views on whether Congress should be asked to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court’s controversial 2010 Citizens United ruling on unlimited independent campaign spending.

“Long-standing historical practice among the states demonstrates a common understanding that legislatures may formally consult with and seek nonbinding input from their constituents on matters relevant to the federal constitutional amendment process,” the ruling read in part.

“We see no evidence the drafters of the California Constitution intended to deprive the Legislature of a tool other state legislatures have long used to ensure they are truly speaking on behalf of their states in the federal constitutional amendment process,” Justice Kathryn M. Werdegar wrote for the state’s high court.

The development paves the way for the state legislature to put this issue before voters statewide in 2016. “I certainly expect it to be on the ballot one way or another,” Derek Cressman, who was the campaign manager for the proposition before it was removed from the ballot, told the LA Times. Hundreds of thousands of Californians also have spoken in support of an amendment through local advisory referenda, Common Cause points out.

A similar advisory referendum is slated to appear on the ballot this November in Arkansas. And in Washington state, backers of yet another initiative aimed at overturning Citizens United submitted 330,000 signatures to the secretary of state at the end of December -- more than enough to qualify the measure for the 2016 ballot.

“Coast-to-coast, Americans are determined to break the hold of big money donors on our politics,” said Hobert Flynn, “from city hall and the county courthouse to the national capitol and the White House.”

(Deirdre Fulton writes for Common Dreams … where this piece was first posted.) Photo: The Earl Warren Building in San Francisco -- Sanfranman59, licensed under GFDL via Wikimedia Commons.  Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

-cw

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 13 Issue 100

Pub: Dec 11, 2015

VOICES OF THE PEOPLE--A funny thing happened on the way to asking Angelenos to pay more taxes while watching the laws of physics, biology, and the City Charter:  they got desperate, felt cornered, and started to rebel. 

Certainly, the venerable efforts of Save Valley Village, and others like it, are being opposed by City Councilmembers who "understand" but disrespect their sentiments by continuously falling back on a "Downtown Group-Think" which justifies every possible excuse to overdevelop at the expense of the lives, environment, health and financial survival of honest, law-abiding City residents. 

Ditto for the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, backed by the same grassroots types who want to have more mobility, economic opportunity, and environmental laws supported by the City Council, but instead have to confront and oppose a City Council, Mayor, and Planning Department which prefers to break the law, change the law, and thwart the lives and wills of their tax-paying constituents. 

And did you hear about the awful (gasp!) organization backing the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, which merely requires a halt on overdevelopments (which, when they're brought before the courts and neighborhood councils, are routinely opposed and shut down) and an adherence to City Charter and its associated environmental laws and laws of democratic governance? 

It's that pesky, evil Aids Healthcare Foundation sponsoring the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative! 

And that evil, dangerous United Neighborhoods For Los Angeles - UN4LA which is pushing for it!   

Heaven forbid that smart development should be ... smart. 

Heaven forbid creating affordable housing should actually do it ... and not overdevelop with boatloads of high-priced, market-value projects with an already insufficient water and infrastructure to support what now exists in our City. 

Heaven forbid that those neighborhoods who really want to help the homeless, create more mobility through mass transit and appropriate transportation/planning measures, and ensure a livable environment should be empowered to actually do all that. 

And Heaven forbid that City Hall should allow those of us working ever more to keep what we have, while paying more and more for taxes and utility rates while getting less and less in return for them, should be allowed to economically survive instead of City leaders focusing on the profits of well-connected developers and a few small-but-connected special interests. 

It's pretty certain that the "true believers" and "density zombies" at Curbed LA and the like, will continue to work with the Mayor to pat us all collectively on the head, give a few tsk-tsk's, and tell us that all this sentiment is understandable but misguided, and make everything worse...and that we're all just a bunch of NIMBY's

It's also pretty certain that those of us who fought (and paid for, and are agonizing over paying more for) to create mass transit and upgrade our infrastructure, and are now being told to swallow ridiculous transit zones of 1/2-mile from train stations, monstrous overdevelopments that destroy and negatively change neighborhoods, and to give up our cars and commute 5-20 or more miles each day on our bicycles and buses... 

...while City leaders and only the wealthy and connected access work through their own cars... 

...will agonize over the decision to pay more for necessary transportation, or say "NO!" even to good transportation measures and its funding just to make a statement to City Hall. 

Finally, the question of taking back City Hall (which was the intent of Mayor Riordan and the Neighborhood Council Initiative) with the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative will also be on our minds if it gets enough signatures to make it on the November ballot. 

So we've got a "S.O.S." to save so much of what we hold dear, and to keep what we fought for while implementing appropriate and fair-minded change: 

1) Let's do what we can to ensure the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative gets on the November ballot 

2) Let's do what we can to ensure a "Measure R-2" for transportation funding on the November ballot, too. 

And let's see what a "S.O.S." can do as ordinary citizens scratch and claw their way to a City that truly represents the will of the citizenry.

 

(Ken Alpern is a Westside Village Zone Director and Board member of the Mar Vista Community Council (MVCC), previously co-chaired its Planning and Outreach Committees, and currently is Co-Chair of its MVCC Transportation/Infrastructure Committee.  He is co-chair of the CD11Transportation Advisory Committee and chairs the nonprofit Transit Coalition, and can be reached at  Alpern@MarVista.org.   He also does regular commentary on the Mark Isler Radio Show on AM 870, and co-chairs the grassroots Friends of the Green Line at www.fogl.us. The views expressed in this article are solely those of Mr. Alpern.) 

-cw

 

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 4

Pub: Jan 12, 2016-01-11

LABOR VUE--Last July, 2,000 conservatives and Tea Party activists gathered in Las Vegas for the annual FreedomFest, which featured GOP presidential frontrunners Donald Trump and Marco Rubio. But it was a fourth grade public school teacher from Orange  County named Rebecca Friedrichs (photo) who promised the far right a prize that neither Trump nor Rubio could offer. Friedrichs and nine other California school teachers are part of a lawsuit now before the U.S. Supreme Court that could deliver a severe blow to the nation’s public-sector unions. It would radically upend the political power of labor — and also, conservatives hope, of the Democratic Party — across the United States.

Friedrichs’ message last summer was the same as she has told audiences elsewhere: “Supposed [union] benefits are not worth the moral costs.”  

The “moral dilemma,” she claims, is over such union collective bargaining practices as securing pensions and workplace protections for public school teachers, and taking positions on issues like school vouchers, that run contrary to her Christian beliefs.

Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, which is scheduled for oral arguments before the high court today, seeks to invalidate California’s agency shop law that requires all teachers in a union bargaining unit to pay “fair share” fees for collective bargaining, whether or not they are members of the union and disagree with the union’s policies. It also seeks to outlaw a process that requires teachers who don’t want a portion of their fees to go to union political activities to “opt out” of funding those activities. (At present teachers are automatically enrolled in such funding mechanisms, unless they choose to opt out.)

Both fair-share and opt-out policies, plaintiffs maintain, violate the First Amendment rights of  teachers like Rebecca Friedrichs who pay “fair share” fees but no union dues. Should that argument find favor with the court’s conservative majority, the case could go down as organized labor’s Citizens United – decimating membership, crippling the unions’ lobbying efficacy and effectively stifling the collective political voice of public-sector workers.

“It really is about weakening a teacher’s voice to advocate for students,” observed CTA president Eric Heins last Thursday at a media briefing. (Disclosure: CTA is a financial supporter of Capital & Main.) “We’ve seen the disastrous results of that in other states where it’s actually happened. If we look at who’s behind this, the Center for Individual Freedom [is] Koch-funded. They have tried and failed through the ballot box to do this … and now they’re trying to get it through the courts.”

In fact, Friedrichs has been literally tailored to do so and was fast-tracked through the California courts by the plaintiffs’ lawyers who asked judges to rule against them so that they could move the case up more quickly toward the Supreme Court.

“Clearly some justices believe that public-sector collective bargaining is bad,” University of California, Irvine law school professor Catherine Fisk told Capital & Main, “and so I think that Friedrichs was a case delivered by an activist litigation group to provide them the vehicle to hold that all public-sector collective bargaining has to be on a strictly right-to-work basis.”

The case originated with the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Individual Rights (CIR), a rightwing litigation shop that designed Friedrichs in response to an inference in Justice Samuel Alito’s majority opinion in Harris v. Quinn, a “dog whistle” ruling widely seen as inviting a First Amendment challenge to fair-share fees.  

CIR had previously won notoriety for its court challenges to affirmative action and the Voting Rights Act. The attorney arguing for the plaintiffs today is Michael A. Carvin of the white-shoe law firm Jones Day, a libertarian firebrand best known for twice attempting to get the Affordable Care Act declared unconstitutional.

Arguing for the unions is David Frederick, an appellate expert from the Washington, D.C. firm Kellogg, Huber, Hansen, Todd, Evans & Figel. Separately arguing on the unions’ side is California solicitor general Ed Dumont and U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli Jr.

The court will be considering two questions today: Whether public-sector agency shop agreements violate the First Amendment’s protections for freedom of speech and assembly, and whether the First Amendment prohibits requiring public employees to affirmatively opt out of subsidizing non-chargeable speech rather than to affirmatively opt in.

At stake are nearly 40 years of protections the U.S. Supreme Court has provided for fair-share union fees — and countless federal, state and local labor laws tied to them — rooted in the court’s 1977 Abood v. Detroit Board of Education decision, which the Burger Court had deemed a reasonable compromise among the First Amendment rights and responsibilities of unions, members and nonmembers.

That landmark ruling established that a public-sector collective bargaining agreement may contain an “agency shop” clause requiring employees who are not union members to financially support the union’s collective bargaining, contract administration and grievance procedures by becoming “fair share payers.”

CTA’s fair-share payers, who include Friedrichs‘ 10 teacher plaintiffs, represent just under 10 percent of the union’s roughly 325,000 members; their fees are translated as payroll deductions of annual fair-share fees amounting to $641, which gets divided among the local union, CTA and its parent organization, the National Education Association. Full union members pay an additional 35 percent that supports the lobbying efforts that give teachers a voice at the education policy table.

Predicting Friedrichs’ chances of prevailing — in spite of the evident antipathy toward unions from Alito and others in the Roberts Court’s conservative faction — turns out to be tied to a tangle of separate strands of First Amendment precedents denying speech rights for government employees that will require contortions of legal logic by the court to create an exception for Friedrichs’ core argument that public school teachers have those rights to begin with.

One strand, Fisk pointed out, leads to Garcetti v. Ceballos, a 2006 case involving the office of former Los Angeles County District Attorney Gil Garcetti, in which the Roberts Court unequivocally affirmed that individual government employees have no First Amendment protections for on-the-job speech.

Another strand leads to Civil Service Commission v. National Association of Letter Carriers, a 1973 Supreme Court case involving a challenge by Chicago letter carriers to the 1939 Hatch Act, which prohibits federal government employees from engaging in a wide range of off-duty partisan political activity. There the court likewise held that the government can prohibit partisan political activity by government employees — even off-the-job speech — in order to have a nonpolitical civil service.

And though Justice Anthony M. Kennedy is often seen as the swing vote in recent decisions written by the conservative majority, the key vote on Friedrichs, Fisk added, may likely be Antonin G. Scalia, who in a 1991 case, Lehnert v. Ferris Faculty Association, upheld fair-share fees as justified because the law imposes a duty of fair representation on the union to represent everyone, not just its members.

“I think it will be important to see what, if anything, is said about Scalia’s opinion in Lehnert,” Fisk noted. “And I think there is an important issue about what deference do the states get to establish their own labor-relations regimes. … What the petitioners in Friedrichs are asking is to prohibit California from making its own choices, and so how do the [conservative] justices that usually would allow states to do what they want, deal with that issue?”

 If Friedrichs prevails, California — along with the rest of the country — will effectively become a right-to-work state for public employees, one in which their unions will still be required by law to represent fairly every worker without regard to whether they pay fees or not. After Republican Governor Scott Walker pushed through his 2011 anti-union law and stripped most of the state’s public-sector unions of their collective-bargaining rights, Wisconsin’s state employees union membership plunged by 70 percent. Membership in the National Education Association’s state branch fell by one-third.

But the consequences of a Friedrichs victory don’t end there. Rather, its logic will open the door to questions of whether any union chosen by the majority has the right to bargain on behalf of everybody, or when the union goes to the table and negotiates on behalf of everybody if that violates the First Amendment rights of employees who don’t want to have the union speak on their behalf.

“There are already cases arguing that, pending in lower courts in various states. There’s one in Illinois,” said Fisk. “And so what that is going to argue is that collective bargaining by a union chosen by the majority violates the rights of the dissenter. I think it’s one of the complicating things in Friedrichs, which is, if the money is the problem, why isn’t the underlying speech also the problem?”

Whether or not Abood can withstand this latest challenge remains unclear, but one thing that is certain is that the fate of America’s public-sector labor movement will be determined by the next President, who may get to appoint as many as three Supreme Court justices.

“If the petitioners don’t win this time,” Fisk reflected, “it’s going to depend on who wins the next election — like everything else, you know, whether it’s the Republican or Clinton or Sanders, because the next Supreme Court appointments are going to matter a lot in this area of law as in every other.”

 (Bill Raden is a freelance Los Angeles writer. This article was first posted at  Capital & Main.

-cw

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 4

Pub: Jan 12, 2016

 

EASTSIDER-Over the holidays, I started reminiscing about “back in the day,” something I used to hate in my 20’s when “old people” did it. However… 

I was thinking of a black union leader in LA named Walter Backstrom. He headed up the LA City Sanitation Workers Union for SEIU back in the day, and for some reason, he took a young union hothead under his wing. At the time, I was around twenty-six, working in Watts as a Social Worker and with the Social Workers Union – so proud of my UC Berkeley credentials. 

Both Sam Yorty and Tom Bradley were running for Mayor of the City of Los Angeles at the time. After we tired of passing endless resolutions to get out of the Vietnam War, we backed Tom Bradley. After all, he was black and everyone seemed to think he was cool. 

Bradley was cool, even though he was a high ranking police officer with tenuous actual ties to South Central LA. He was not universally perceived by the community as a nice guy. And Walter and Local 347 were backing Sam Yorty. 

Anyhow, we got to talking when I discovered some Yorty backers slapping some pretty nasty bumper stickers on cars in Watts, making it look like Bradley was a black radical.  Morally outraged, I asked Walter “how can this be?” I asked him, “how can you back a racist like Yorty?” I’ll always remember his reply. “Son,” he said, “Tom Bradley doesn’t need any more black support, but Sam Yorty does. I get paid to help my members.” 

Backstrom represented the trash collection workers. They had hard jobs and bad working conditions. They needed all the help they could get, especially from City Hall. 

Yorty went on to win, and I couldn’t help but notice that Local 347 got great contracts -- courtesy of Mayor Sam and wonderful access to City Hall. Walter Backstrom later went on to work for State Senator Bill Green and for Councilman Robert Farrell. We remained friends over the years. Local 347 always got good contracts for trash workers during those times. It was a lesson to me in the “good” RealPolitik

My takeaway is this:  Back then, the politicians were probably no cleaner than they are today, but the system had a network of relationships, built over time, that worked. No one wanted to do anything spectacularly stupid that would jeopardize those relationships -- with a few notable exceptions. It was a time for “grown-ups,” in the sense that everyone was clear about their stake in the game; your handshake really was your bond and most of the real political business got done over cocktails and food or in private meetings. 

In Sacramento, where I did some occasional lobbying work for my union, special interests maintained individual full-time hired lobbyists. The big unions ran tabs at all the bars in town and the eateries like Frank Fats, David’s Brass Rail, and Posey’s. They kept hotel tabs at places like The Senator. While I was there, I never saw a politician pick up a tab or a lobbyist embarrass a politician. Believe me, in the evenings, in the joints with large tables that included the political class and us hangers on, it was the same deal:  your word was your bond. And you didn’t talk or you never came back. 

In those heady, and sometimes corrupt, days in the City and the State, elected officials were basically in for life -- unless they got caught with their hand in the cookie jar or with a seriously underage companion in public.  

There were two plus sides to this system. First, this was a time of direct relationships between the special interests -- sometimes brokered through lobbyists, but often by direct one-on-one meetings. Those relationships lasted over decades. They imposed a degree of personal civility … boundaries that are nonexistent today. 

The other plus side was that everybody had a stake in the game. The politicians tended to gravitate into areas of expertise during their long political careers. Water issues, zoning, taxes, mental health -- you name it -- they found a niche of expertise; they and their staffs became experts.  And that expertise crossed party lines with regularity. Heck, they even read their bills! 

There were characters like Phil Burton and George Moscone and Willie Brown. There were great Republicans like George Milias and Bob Beverly. And they all worked together most of the time. And everyone in the game knew where the practical limits were. 

This worked for the players, even if the public was largely lost in space. The same held true for LA City Hall and the County of Los Angeles, although the County was seriously conservative and secretive compared to the rest of the jurisdictions I dealt with on a continuous basis. 

Then, after a lot of scandals, along came term limits. The thinking was that you couldn’t get an elected official out of office without a crowbar and this was close to true!  As a result, we got a new breed of folks who have no expertise in anything except getting elected to office and making a career out of moving up the rungs of the political ladder. Typically, this occurred at more expense and more to the detriment of the public than under the old system. Talk about unintended consequences!  And today, you still can’t get them out with a crowbar. 

These days, elected officials don’t even read most of the bills they author; votes are pretty much automatic, given the Democratic super majorities. Lost in this process is any pretense of subject matter expertise by these elected officials. It’s all about instant gratification. 

The only relationships that exist are the transitory cash ones between elected officials and the lobbyists, developers, and, yes, the unions who have ponied up the money to keep them in the game.  A handshake is good for a few weeks -- if you’re lucky -- and it’s all about what you are going to do for the incumbent now … now being defined as how what you want fits into their next office … public policy be damned. 

Just look at the LA City Council and the career paths of the majority of these elected officials. Public property, which is theoretically owned by the people of the City of Los Angeles and is held in trust by these public servants, is treated as markers in a monopoly game, while they bounce from job to job. 

My point is not to glamorize the old system or to bring back the good old days of a part-time California Legislature – even though you at least knew who bought who back then. 

I want to encourage some serious thought about how we govern, and how to go about modifying our existing system so that there is some incentive for elected officials to actually know something about the issues they casually shop. 

Land use issues are very complicated if you want to do more than simply sell your vote. Law enforcement issues are likewise very complicated. The second you drill down into the details and set up ‘filtering’ Commissions, it doesn’t seem to do a lot for either the communities we live in or the police themselves. 

The same is true of a host of issues. For instance, water management at the State level. This requires both knowledgeable elected officials who have subject matter expertise, either their own or that of their paid staffs. “Dialing for dollars,” as evidenced in our current system, is not what we need or want. 

So maybe, just maybe, we should take another look at term limits … and their implications.

 

(Tony Butka is an Eastside community activist, who has served on a neighborhood council, has a background in government and is a contributor to CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

-cw

 

CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 3

Pub: Jan 8, 2016

NEW GEOGRAPHY--In presidential election years, it is natural to see our political leaders also as the brokers of our economic salvation. Some, such as columnist Harold Meyerson, long have embraced politics as a primary lever of upward mobility for minorities. He has positively contrasted the rise of Latino politicians in California, and particularly Los Angeles, with the relative dearth of top Latino office-holders in heavily Hispanic Texas. In Los Angeles, he notes, political activism represents the “biggest game in town” while, in Houston, he laments, politics takes second place to business interests and economic growth.

In examining the economic and social mobility of ethnic groups across the country, however, the politics-first strategy has shown limited effectiveness. Latinos, for example, have dramatically increased their elected representatives nationally since the 1990s, particularly in California. But both Latinos and African Americans continue to move to, and appear to do better in, the more free-market, politically conservative states, largely in the South.

Two Paths to Success

Throughout American history, immigrants and minorities have had two primary pathways to success. One, by using the political system, seeks to redirect resources to a particular group and also to protect it from majoritarian discrimination, something particularly necessary in the case of the formerly enslaved African Americans.

The other approach, generally less well-covered, has defined social uplift through such things as education, hard work and familial values. This path was embraced by early African American leaders such as Booker T. Washington and Marcus Garvey. Today, the most successful ethnic groups – Koreans, Middle Easterners, Jews, Greeks and Russians – demonstrate the validity of this method through high levels of both entrepreneurial and educational achievement.

How today’s racial minorities achieve upward mobility has never been more important. Today, Latinos, together with African Americans and Asians, constitute 43 percent of the combined population in the country’s 52 largest metropolitan areas, up from 35 percent in 2000. By 2050, ethnic minorities are expected to constitute close to a majority of the country’s population. As minorities become majorities, too much reliance on racial redress and wealth redistribution will put enormous stress on the economic system and social order.

Temptations of Politics

Conditions vary, and, for some groups, particularly the larger ones, temptation remains to turn growing numbers into political power. African Americans have employed their numbers and political solidarity to achieve considerable electoral success, particularly at the municipal level. The election of Barack Obama as president stands as the supreme achievement of the African American political community.

But has triumph at the top of the political pyramid translated into true gains at the grass-roots level? From 2007-13, African Americans have experienced a 9 percent drop in incomes, far worse than the 6 percent decline for the rest of the population. In 2013, African American unemployment remained twice that of whites, and, according to the Urban League, the black middle class has conceded many of the gains made over the past 30 years.Concentrated urban poverty – on the decline in the booming 1990s – now appears to be growing.

This contradicts the idea that politically achieved generous welfare and subsidy regimeshold the key to ethnic uplift. African Americans, in fact, often do worse in many of the cities – Detroit, Baltimore, Chicago – that have been exemplars of black political power and redistributionist politics.

Conditions are not much better in the generally more prosperous coastal glamour towns, where progressive racial politics remain sacrosanct.Black households in New York have incomes of roughly $43,000, about the same as much as much less-costly Atlanta, Raleigh, N.C., and major Texas cities.

One possible explanation lies in economic transitions – accelerated by tough regulations – that have seen the demise of higher-paying blue-collar jobs that provided opportunities in the past. The rapid shift to an economy centered around high-end business services and tech enterprises has left many behind. Silicon Valley’s African Americans and Hispanics make up roughly one-third of the population but are barely 5 percent of employees in top Silicon Valley firms.

The biggest beneficiaries of political success has not been working families but members of President Obama’s heavily African American inner circle, as well as politically adept cliques at the state and local level. Bourgeois African Americans in politics, the arts and media enjoy more influence than ever at the top, but the grass-roots level confronts street level crime, rising levels of black dissatisfaction and white resentment.

Where are things better?

In a recent study for the Center for Opportunity Urbanism (www.opportunityurbanism.org), demographer Wendell Cox and I tried to identify the U.S. locales with the best economic conditions for African Americans and other racial minorities. The surprising answer: the old Confederacy. In ranking our top 15 areas for African Americans – based on incomes, homeownership, migration patterns and entrepreneurial activity – 13 were in the South, while the others, Baltimore and Washington, D.C., are in historic border areas.

In the Great Migration, from 1910-70, 6 million African Americans moved from the South to the North, notably to Chicago, New York, Philadelphia and Detroit, as well as to California. Now the migration pattern has changed dramatically. From 2000-13, the African American populations of Atlanta, Charlotte, N.C., Orlando, Houston, Dallas-Fort Worth, Raleigh, N.C., Tampa-St. Petersburg, Fla., and San Antonio grew by close to or above 40 percent, or higher, versus an average of 27 percent for the 52 metropolitan areas.

In contrast, the African American population actually dropped in five critically important large metros that once were beacons for black progress: San Francisco-Oakland, San Jose, Los Angeles, Chicago and Detroit.

Latinos at a crossroad

Like African Americans, Latinos also are moving to places with lower costs and greater opportunities. For Latinos, now the nation’s largest ethnic minority, nine of the top 13 places are cities wholly or partially within the old Confederacy. The majority of newcomers to the South, notes a recent Pew study, are classic first-wave immigrants: young, 57 percent foreign born and not well-educated. “You go where the opportunities are,” explains Mark Hugo Lopez, associate director of the Pew Hispanic Center in Washington, D.C.

The contrast is revealing between the two leading Latino megastates: hyperprogressive California and right-leaning Texas. The Lone Star state’s Latino population continues to grow rapidly, expanding since 2000 by 68 percent in Houston, 70 percent in Dallas-Fort Worth and 83 percent in Austin. In contrast, Los Angeles saw a relatively meager 15 percent Latino expansion.

The one place in California that has seen rapid Latino growth combined with the best economic performance is the most Texas-like region in the state: Riverside-San Bernardino, where the Latino population has expanded by 74 percent since 2000.

These migration figures reflect diverging realities. Start with a Latino poverty rate that, adjusted for cost of living, reaches more than 33 percent in California versus 22.7 percent in Texas. Using a host of key social indicators – marriage rate, church attendance and welfare dependency – Latinos also seem to do much better in the Lone Star State than here.

Surprisingly, the educational performance gap between Latino students and whites is much larger in California than in the nation, while significantly lower in Texas, which spends considerably less per pupil.

But perhaps the greatest distinction is found in housing. In cities like Houston, a majority of Latinos and some 40 percent of African Americans own their homes. Those rates are, on average, 25 percent to 30 percent lower in Los Angeles, as well as in deep-blue cities like New York, San Francisco and Boston.

Homeownership, like education, long has been critical to upward mobility. As a recent report by the liberal think tank Demos indicates, much of the “ethnic wealth gap” – white households with wealth more than 10 times their Latino or African American counterparts – comes from differing home ownership rates.

Lesson for minorities?

It may be tempting for minorities in California and other blue regions to continue demanding their “rights” and investing their hopes in transfer payments, housing subsidies, energy credits and affirmative action to improve their day-to-day lives. But this reliance likely won’t turn them into a new upwardly mobile middle class. To rise up, minorities need to demand economic and housing policies that don’t simply alleviate poverty but put more people on the road to overcoming it.

(Joel Kotkin is executive editor of NewGeography.com and Roger Hobbs Distinguished Fellow in Urban Studies at Chapman University, and a member of the editorial board of the Orange County Register. He is also executive director of the Houston-based Center for Opportunity Urbanism. His newest book, The New Class Conflict is now available at Amazon and Telos Press. He is also author of The City: A Global History and The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050. He lives in Orange County, CA.)

-cw

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 4

Pub: Jan 12, 2016


CALBUZZ-“They keep coming,” the advertisement’s narrator intoned, while the screen showed footage of undocumented immigrants scurrying across a highway. The year was 1994, and the ad was the centerpiece of California Republican Governor Pete Wilson’s re-election campaign.

Trailing in the polls after a lackluster first term, Wilson resurrected his prospects by excoriating the Clinton administration for its presumed lack of border enforcement and by backing a ballot measure (Proposition 187) that would deny all public services, including the right to attend K-12 schools, to the undocumented.

Short-term, the strategy worked. Wilson won re-election; Proposition 187 passed handily, though it was soon struck down by the courts. Long term, Wilson’s strategy proved to be a Republican cataclysm—indeed, in a state on track to become “majority minority,” (today, California is 39 percent Latino, 13 percent Asian, 6 percent black and 38 percent non-Hispanic white), a more thorough act of political suicide is hard to imagine. (Editor’s note: Last July, Calbuzz explained how Donald Trump has done for the national GOP what Wilson did for California. Here’s the link

GOP Latino Outreach. In 1996, Latinos began voting in far greater numbers, overwhelmingly for Democratic candidates; in time, as the GOP’s anti-immigrant crusades continued, they were joined by the state’s Asian voters as well. What had been a politically purple state at the time of Wilson’s re-election turned deepest blue.

Today, Democrats hold nearly two-thirds of the seats in the legislature, represent more than 70 percent of the state’s congressional districts, and of the 56 regularly scheduled elections for statewide office that have been held since 1994 (for the eight statewide constitutional officers and the two U.S. senators), Republicans have won exactly one—Arnold Schwarzenegger’s 2002 gubernatorial bid.

Wilson Replay. In only slightly modified fashion, updated versions of Wilson’s ad began popping up on TV screens and social media this week. Donald Trump’s very first ad features a narrator proclaiming, “He’ll stop illegal immigration by building a wall on our southern border that Mexico will pay for,” over footage showing a mass of people streaming across the border.

Ted Cruz responded with an ad showing people in proper business attire hastening across the border, while Cruz asks if economic elites would be so blasé about immigration if the migrants were a threat to professional, rather than low-wage, jobs—a right-populist twist if ever there was one. (Given America’s changing demographics, of course, Trump and Cruz are likely inflicting the same kind of long-term damage on the national Republican Party that Wilson inflicted on California’s GOP, but candidates and their managers are existentially allergic to thinking long-term.)

The Cruz footage, of course, was staged. But then, the Trump footage, as his campaign belatedly acknowledged, was a video clip not of the U.S.-Mexican border, but of the border between Morocco and the North African Spanish enclave of Melilla. (Mexico, Morocco—sound alike, swarthy people, don’t speak English: What’s the diff?)

Seen this Movie Before. But Republicans have a long tradition of staged border footage. Indeed, the very first political ad ever screened was of dangerous, foreign-accented hordes streaming over the California border. Only, the hordes were really actors, the footage was shot by MGM, and it was presented to the California public not as an ad but as a documentary newsreel that was screened in virtually every movie theater in the state.

The “newsreel” (actually, newsreels—there were three of them) was the linchpin of the GOP’s ultimately successful effort to defeat the 1934 gubernatorial campaign of socialist author and activist Upton Sinclair, who had stunned the state by winning that year’s Democratic gubernatorial primary and who was clearly favored to win the general election until the Republicans launched a multi-million-dollar barrage of falsifications designed to bring Sinclair down.

The barrage included a well-publicized effort to suppress voter turnout by threatening to prosecute and send to prison for up to seven years “fraudulent” voters with no fixed addresses or who had recently moved. (There is little new under the Republican sun.)

But the “newsreels,” which were commissioned by MGM studio chief Irving Thalberg, were the GOP’s pièce de resistance. In answering a question on how he’d follow through on his pledge to create jobs in Depression-wracked California, the somewhat ethereal, political novice Sinclair had said he’d be so successful that the unemployed of other states would flock to California.

Thus inspired, the MGM crew staged footage of unsavory characters with menacingly foreign accents crossing the state line into California, endorsing Sinclair as they came. (Some of the footage was actually outtakes from the William Wellman-Warner Brothers picture Wild Boys of the Road, about Depression-engendered hobos.) One bearded figure with a heavy Yiddish accent said of Sinclair, “Vell, his system vorked vell in Russia; vy can’t it vork here?” (In actuality, Sinclair had a long record of anti-communism, and the Communist Party reviled him during the campaign as a “social fascist.”)

The “newsreels” so enraged Sinclair supporters that arguments broke out in movie theaters across the state, and some chains stopped showing them. They also alarmed many in California’s Jewish community for their blatant use of anti-Semitic stereotypes (much as many Latinos and Muslims are alarmed today by the GOP’s descent into racist and nativist stereotypes.) Some Jewish leaders condemned the studio heads (all of whom opposed Sinclair and all of whom were Jewish) as traitors to their people.

History Repeats Itself. The only real political difference between the 1934, 1994, and 2016 versions of the GOP’s border demagogy is that the 1934 version focused on state lines, not international borders. The opposition of the California right to economic migrants from other states during the Depression was every bit as intense as the Republicans’ opposition to transnational immigrants today, and the stereotyping every bit as vile.

The Oakies who came to California fleeing the Dust Bowl in the years immediately following 1934 were often stopped at the state line and turned back by self-appointed border guards, or subjected to vigilante violence in attacks on migrant farmworker camps. (Such scenes are depicted in both the book and the film of The Grapes of Wrath.) Given the right conditions and sufficient rabble-rousing, even God-fearing white Protestant Americans could be turned into the “other.”

No matter the particulars, the GOP’s determination to exploit and engender anxiety and bigotry for political gain, even, or especially, when it requires blatant and repetitive falsification, has a long and storied pedigree, as more than 80 years of the party’s border propaganda makes sickeningly clear.

(Harold Meyerson is the executive editor of The American Prospect. This piece originally appeared in CalBuzz.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

 -cw 

 

CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 4

Pub: Jan 12, 2016

More Articles ...