Opinion: Can Democrats govern California?


Facing the likelihood of conflicting tax initiatives on the November ballot, Gov. Jerry Brown last week reached agreement with the California Federation of Teachers (CFT) on a compromise, unified measure. While the CFT’s “millionaire’s tax” had polled well, the union agreed with Brown to propose instead a tax increase on high earners, a slightly smaller sales tax increase than in the governor’s proposal, and to set a time limit for the new rules of seven years instead of the CFT’s open-ended plan. Now that the threat of competing tax measures on the ballot may have been averted (although Molly Munger’s broad-based tax proposal still remains on the ballot, despite polling poorly), the question remains whether the tight timeline on getting enough signatures to place the initiative on the ballot can be met.

Further, this moment of unity is only the beginning of a perilous road for the state’s Democrats from here to November. Political observers often ask, “Is California governable?” A better question right now is, “Can Democrats govern California?” Because despite numerous governance obstacles, that is largely who is in charge.

California has gone from being a divided (“purple”) state to a solidly blue one. In 2008, Barack Obama won California by a margin of more than 3 million votes. Even in the heavily Republican wave of 2010, Jerry Brown won the governorship by 1.3 million votes.

Between Obama’s election in 2008 and early 2012, Democratic registration rose from 42.7 percent to 43.6 percent; Republican rolls dropped from 33.5 percent to 30.4 percent. And the changes are geographically widespread. Among California’s 58 counties, those with Democratic pluralities increased from 23 to 28, while Republican-leading counties declined, from 35 to 30.

And for the Republicans, the bottom may not yet have been reached — a recent Los Angeles Times article suggested that Democrats have new potential in the historically Republican Inland Empire. No one is even mentioning Republican candidates for governor for 2014, while there are already three major Democratic contenders angling for position. Democrats may win a two-thirds majority in the state Senate in November.

As Democrats celebrate their entrenched position, capping a run that began with Bill Clinton’s election in 1992 and continued with the vast rise of Latino voting in the decades of the 1990s along with a resurgent and enthusiastic labor movement, we cannot avoid the deeper and more profound question posed above: Can Democrats govern the state?

The problem comes down to revenue: Voters passed a simple majority budget rule in 2010, facilitating the first on-time budget in years. But the two-thirds majority of the legislature needed to pass tax measures that became enshrined in the state constitution with the passage of Proposition 13 in 1978 remains. And until that two-thirds majority rule on new taxes is overturned by voters, governing will be a tough slog for Democrats.

As weak as the Republicans are in California today, due in part to their party’s hard-line stance on immigration, they will revive if Democrats drop the ball.

Republicans are not without “weapons of the weak,” a term developed by professor James C. Scott in another context. Unity in the Republican legislative caucus against tax increases, bolstered by the two-thirds requirement, has already forced Democrats onto the risky and uncertain path of ballot-box budgeting. Republicans’ recent embrace of Brown’s pension-reform plan showed a long-absent nimbleness placing Democratic legislators on the defensive.

Like President Obama, Gov. Jerry Brown spent (or wasted) time trying to convert Republicans to support tax increases. Brown learned more quickly than Obama that Republicans could not help him, not because they didn’t like or respect him personally (and even if he adopted some Republican ideas), but because of the internal dynamics of their own party. While social issues divide Republican voters, opposition to taxes unifies them. That, and not personality or intimidation, is why Grover Norquist has so much clout.

Business, however, is one piece of the Republican coalition that can sometimes act independently. While low taxation is the mantra for Republican voters, fighting regulation is the key for business. The Republicans’ ties with business can be tenuous and in need of care, as the Democrats no longer count on the uncritical support of labor (the CFT battle with Brown being one recent example). The state’s Chamber of Commerce quietly signaled non-opposition to Brown’s original plan, so now that Brown reached a deal with the CFT, he will be trying to keep business from opposing the compromise measure.

Brown has work to do to get this compromise measure on the November ballot. But the real battle will be in November, with Brown’s and the Democrats’ credibility to govern this blue state on the line.

That will be painfully hard, as the Democratic Party, both in California and nationally, is still fighting an uphill battle against Ronald Reagan’s famous line: “Government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.”

Can Democrats revive the notion that public investment in California is of true value, as last articulated by Jerry Brown’s father, Pat? A lot has happened since the elder Brown’s day to undermine faith in that vision, and it will not be easy for Democrats to restore a philosophy promoted in an earlier, more optimistic time. But they will have to try.

If Democrats fail on the budget, their work will be without purpose except to implement draconian cuts that will further undermine the performance of government. Recent polls by the Field Organization and the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) indicate overwhelming public opposition to across-the-board cuts to the schools. Who will be blamed if the inevitable cuts happen? Nobody’s going to be looking for Grover Norquist.

The most recent PPIC poll found that the governor’s proposal, which closely resembles the compromise measure, is supported by only 52 percent of voters, with 40 percent opposed and 8 percent undecided. It is winnable, but not easy. The presidential election, with Obama’s name on the top of the ballot, will help generate a Democratic turnout, and that base is generally supportive of the tax measures. But it will take more to get the majority of voters needed to get the initiative passed. No matter how blue the state, taxes are never popular.

Much will depend on the perceived value of the programs California has built and that are jeopardized by budget catastrophe, such as the historic university system. As Los Angeles Times columnist George Skelton recently wrote, voters will also want to know that the government plans to become more efficient. They want to know where the new money would go — assurances that it will not be down a rat hole. To promise that will require reform. It may mean embracing efficiency recommendations, including some steps that will annoy Democratic interest groups.

When the public sector works well, as it often does, its advocates have to energetically and without apology shout those successes from the rooftops. When it falls short, its supporters need to be the first on the scene to fix the problem. The positive impact of the work of government (your tax dollars at work), as well as a willingness to ride herd on that government, both have to be proven all over again, every single day. The ascendant Democrats must put those two strategies in place in order to go beyond winning elections to turning the state around.


Raphael J. Sonenshein is executive director of the Edmund G. “Pat” Brown Institute of Public Affairs at California State University, Los Angeles.

Rabbis on anti-gay marriage Prop 8: Yes, no, maybe


“Prop. 8 is presently the most crucial battle of the culture war here.” — Penny Harrington, legislative director, Concerned Women for America in California

The arguments and epithets surrounding state Prop. 8 are rising in volume and intensity as the Nov. 4 election draws near, so it may be useful to quote its exact wording.

ELIMINATES RIGHT OF SAME-SEX COUPLES TO MARRY. INITIATIVE CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT
  • Changes the California constitution to eliminate the right of same-sex couples to marry in California.
  • Provides that only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.

Jewish advocates on both sides have joined the controversy with customary vigor. Emulating the brevity of the initiative itself, the lineup for the rabbinical and congregational leaders of the main denominations, and most of their adherents, comes down to:

Orthodox: support Prop. 8, marriage only between a man and a woman.

Reform, Reconstructionist: oppose Prop. 8, marriage for all.

Conservative: No official stand.

This equation may be somewhat simplistic, but in general on the left and right of the denominational spectrum the lines are sharply drawn, with little room for mavericks or closet dissenters.

Repeated inquiries by The Journal failed to yield any Orthodox rabbi willing to declare his opposition to Prop. 8 or any Reform rabbi supporting the ballot measure.

However, there was some “crossover,” according to Rabbi Mark S. Diamond, executive director of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California, who polled the 290 members of his organization on their views.

Of the 120 responding, 112 (or 93 percent) voted against the proposition, six voted for, and two abstained. However, these results are not entirely conclusive, partly because only 41 percent of the membership responded, and because only six congregational Orthodox rabbis have chosen to affiliate with the organization.

However, leading spokesmen for all denominations, and supportive lay groups, discussed their views with The Journal.

Orthodox

Rabbi JJ Rabinowich, California director of the ultra-Orthodox Agudath Israel, noted that “marriage between a man and a woman has been fundamental to the Jewish people for thousands of years. We also agree with the many studies showing that children flourish best when raised by a mother and father.”

A more detailed argument for supporting Prop. 8 was put forward by Daniel Korobkin, one of the city’s most visible Orthodox rabbis and one of three signatories of the official statement by the centrist Orthodox Union as its West Coast director for community and synagogue services.

The statement endorses Prop. 8 and notes that “One of G-d’s first acts is to join Adam and Eve in marriage and to command them to build a family.”

It adds, “We know the threat to people of faith and houses of worship is real and under way…. Religious institutions and people face charges of bigotry and could be denied government funding and more if same-sex marriage becomes the law of the land.”

Speaking in his capacity as “a community rabbi in Hancock Park,” Korobkin cited both biblical and contemporary reasons for his views.

While the Torah’s strictures against homosexual relations are well known, he said, talmudic literature goes beyond this injunction by warning that a society that endorses such a relationship endangers itself, which is a greater sin than the act itself.

“If we permit same-sex marriage today, why not incestual marriage tomorrow, or bestial marriage after that?” he asked.

Korobkin also expressed fears that defeat of Prop. 8 would endanger the right of religious adoption agencies to refuse adoptions to gay couples or compel schools to teach that all forms of marriage are equally viable.

He estimated that about 90 percent of Orthodox congregants agreed with his views, but that some might vote against Prop. 8 anyhow because they feared a breach in state-church separation or were uneasy about the overwhelming role of evangelical Christians in the pro-Prop. 8 campaign.

However, Korobkin emphasized, “We have tremendous empathy for gay people and what we stand for is not hate speech, nor are we prompted by malice. Some of our people are gay, though not overtly. When they come to us for guidance, we are extremely sympathetic.”

Conservative

Neither the rabbinical nor the congregational arms of the Conservative movement are taking a stand on Prop. 8, according to Rabbi Richard Flom, president of the regional Rabbinical Assembly, and Joel Baker, regional executive director of the United Synagogue.

One reason may be the general reluctance of Conservative congregations to take political stands, given the wide ideological spread among its members, Baker suggested.

Many of his congregants, said Flom of Burbank Temple Emanu El, are trying to strike a balance between support for the civil rights of gays and “personal halachic [Jewish law] concerns.”

Flom himself recently gave a sermon opposing Prop. 8, partly based on his reservations about whether the state has any right to become involved in this issue.

“If I were a betting man, I would wager that the bulk of our members would oppose Prop. 8,” Flom said.

Indeed some of the most respected names in the Conservative rabbinate have publicly come out for the marriage rights of same-sex couples.

Rabbis Harold Schulweis and Edward Feinstein, both of Valley Beth Shalom in Encino, can be seen and heard on YouTube strongly advocating the defeat of Prop. 8 (www.cafaithforequality.org/Support1.html).

Rabbi Elliot Dorff, rector and professor of philosophy at American Jewish University, is one of the most eloquent voices opposing Prop. 8.

Positioning same-sex marriage as a civil rights and equality issue, Dorff said, “We Jews have benefited greatly from the Enlightenment; it would be ironic, it would be mean, if we now came out against a minority within a minority.

“Marriage means that two people take responsibility for each other and their biological or adopted children, and society has a vested interest in that,” Dorff added.

Despite the official neutrality of the main Conservative organizations, Dorff believes that “an overwhelming majority” of Conservative rabbis and congregants will oppose Prop. 8.

Reform

Reform rabbis and congregants constitute the most vigorous segment of the Jewish community in fighting Prop. 8, supported by the American Jewish Committee, Anti-Defamation League and National Council of Jewish Women.

Rabbi Linda Bertenthal, a regional director for the Union for Reform Judaism, cited her organization’s resolution, which describes marriage as “a basic human right and an individual personal choice.”

The statement adds, “the state should not interfere with same-gender couples who choose to marry and share freely and equally in the rights, responsibilities and commitment of civil marriage.”

Taking an active part in the campaign is Rabbi Denise Eger of Congregation Kol Ami in West Hollywood, whose members are reaching out to voters through phone banks and collaboration with interfaith groups.

Eger was the first member of the clergy to officiate at a same-gender marriage in California on June 16 of this year, immediately after the State Supreme Court legalized such marriages by overturning a voter-approved 2000 initiative and statute to ban them.

Also heavily involved are such groups as the Institute for Judaism and Sexual Orientation at Hebrew Union College and Jews for Marriage Equality.

Psychologist Joel Kushner, director of the institute, observed that opposition to Prop. 8 is in line with the “Jewish heritage of justice,” while clearly not forcing any objecting rabbi to officiate at same-sex marriages.

Jews for Marriage Equality was founded by Steve Krantz, who retired after a notable career as a computer engineer to become a defender of the rights of one of his two sons, who is gay.

Krantz said he has compiled a list of 220 names, which include the majority of California rabbis, who went on record in opposing Prop. 8.

His goal now is to reach unaffiliated “gustatory” Jews through large ads in the primary Jewish weeklies in Los Angeles and San Francisco, working in partnership with the Progressive Jewish Alliance.

If Prop. 8 wins, he said, his organization will continue its work, but if the ballot measure loses, “we’ll have a big party.”



Striking an individual stance, separate from his collegial pro and con advocates, is Rabbi Daniel Bouskila of Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel. He was one of the two abstainers when the Board of Rabbis voted overwhelmingly to oppose Prop. 8.

“I felt that it violated the board’s ethical code to take a stance on a political matter,” he said.

Personally, he asserted, he would never officiate at a same-sex or interfaith marriage.

“I think my congregation would have a feeling of discomfort if its rabbi participated in such a ceremony,” Bouskila said. “In Sephardic tradition, we believe that religion is religion and politics is politics.”

As the saying has it, as goes California, so goes the nation, and the outcome of the Prop. 8 battle is being monitored across the country.

It is expected that the two sides of the issue will together spend a total of $40 million on their campaigns, the most for a social issue proposition, with contributions flowing in from some 10,000 people in 50 states.

The “No on Prop. 8” campaign has announced $100,000 contributions each from filmmaker Steven Spielberg, Richard Haas of the Levi Strauss dynasty and actor Brad Pitt.

Same-sex marriage is likely to remain a hot-button issue in the presidential race, with Prop. 8 backers looking to Sen. John McCain for ideological support, and opponents to Sen. Barack Obama.

On Thursday, Oct. 16, The Jewish Federation’s Jewish Community Relations Committee will present a nonpartisan forum on critical ballot issues. It’s at 7 p.m. in The Jewish Federation Goldsmith Center, Sanders Board Room, 6505 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. For security reasons, R.S.V.P. by Oct. 13 to (323) 761-8145 or e-mail LAJCRC@JewishLA.org

Our Faux Democracy


The average California voter doesn’t know what “redistricting” is. Many voters don’t even know what a “voting district” is. The aversion among California voters to such wonky issues goes a long way to explaining why Proposition 77, a long-overdue reform, is struggling.

Most Californians think that, when they vote, they do so within a community of interest, based largely on geography and community boundaries, known as a “voting district.” That was true years ago. But the advent of highly sophisticated computer software now allows the California legislature to painstakingly divide voters block by block. The Democratic Party and Republican Party use this technological power to divide voters, not based on communities of interest, but on party registration instead.

First, Republican and Democratic voters are carefully separated from one another using computer programs that extensively sort and track personal voter registration data. Then, the Democrats are grouped into phony and often bizarrely shaped “voting districts” of their own, and the Republicans into phony and often bizarrely shaped “voting districts” of their own.

Finally, during the spring primaries, the dominant party in one of these dishonest voting districts chooses a highly partisan candidate to spoon-feed to its corralled voters — usually a candidate with little interest in wooing voters from the other side of the aisle. After all, since the dominant party is guaranteed the win in such a rigged “voting district,” the candidates themselves need not be pragmatic types capable of talking to different sorts of voters.

This is not democracy. The California legislature stole our democracy while we slept. All districts in California are now rigged this way. That’s why, in California in the fall of 2004, not a single state legislative or Congressional seat changed party hands.

Because these phony voting districts are designed to stamp out competition between the two parties, the dismal election outcomes can now be widely predicted months before Election Day. As one wag described the untenable situation in California, “Voters no longer pick the candidate. Candidates pick their voters.”

Proposition 77 would halt this anti-democratic practice. The measure would hand the job of drawing up California voting districts to an independent panel of retired judges. It’s a good idea, but many California Democratic elected leaders — instead of doing the right thing — are doing everything they can to torpedo this long overdue reform.

Just like the dominant Republicans in Texas who grossly abused their gerrymandering powers, California’s dominant elected Democrats can see only as far as their next election victory. It’s exceedingly unlikely that Democrats would lose their grip on power in the Sacramento legislature, even if they had to compete in elections once again, because California is heavily Democratic no matter how the voting district lines are drawn. But at least voters would have a choice.

The state’s Democratic leadership is spending millions of dollars to defeat Proposition 77 to make sure there is no choice.

So far, Proposition 77 remains up for grabs. Its fate remains in play despite the Democratic millions. A poll released Oct. 28 by the Public Policy Institute of California showed Proposition 77 lagging 50 percent to 36 percent. That looks discouraging, but, as noted by Public Policy Institute of California research director Mark Baldassare, the same percentage of voters opposed Proposition 77 back in August, before the Democrats poured a king’s ransom into defeating it. Moreover, an unusually large number of people — 14 percent — are still undecided late in the race.

“With this many undecideds,” Baldassare said, “it is really hard to know where redistricting will end up. The numbers just are not moving, with that 50 percent opposed figure staying the same since August.”

His past polls indicate that roughly 60 percent of Californians think there is something very wrong about letting politicians pick and choose the voters and districts in which the politicians run for office. So if backers can just transmit their message to voters, Proposition 77 can win.

“In my previous poll, so many people felt it was wrong for the Legislature to have this control,” he said. “That fact, combined with the undecideds, makes me think this measure will come down to how people focus on the issue in these final days.”

So why is Proposition 77 in trouble at all? The problem is that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is embracing it and Democrats are demonizing it — and him. The governor’s approval ratings are low, and many Democrats are uncertain whom to believe.

“Voters are looking for cues, or clues, that tell them if this is a measure that might have a political motive, or is an honest effort at good government,” Baldassare said.

For his part, the governor needs to speak plainly and directly to all Californians, without rancor, to explain this wonky-sounding issue. Then, voters must do the rest. People in a democracy must arm themselves with knowledge, or face losing their democracy.

In fact, that’s already happened in California.

Jill Stewart is a syndicated political columnist and can be reached at

Shake-Up!


Rep. Howard Berman can work the J-circuit with the best of them. He knows who’s who among synagogue presidents, what to wear at bar mitzvahs, what to say to which rabbis and which chicken-dinner fundraisers are can’t miss. A smart Jewish politician in a heavily Jewish district quickly figures these things out, and Berman, 64, has represented his San Fernando Valley district since 1980.

By now, Berman knows almost instinctively where he needs to be.

So what’s he doing helping organize a Veteran’s Day parade in Pacoima, a working-class, Latino enclave?

The answer is that Berman’s 28th District has become a lot more Latino than it used to be, and Berman knows he needs to serve those constituents, too. That combination of political savvy and attention to public service has kept Berman in office these 25 years.

But staying in office could get a lot more challenging for Berman — as well as for several other elected officials who happen to be Jewish.

Proposition 77, the redistricting measure on next week’s special elections ballot, is likely to shift considerably more Latino voters into Berman’s district — and perhaps give rise to a viable Latino challenger. The same pattern could play out for several other Jewish politicians, including Reps. Adam Schiff in the Glendale/Pasadena area and Brad Sherman in the San Fernando Valley. Rep. Jane Harman, in the South Bay is less likely to be threatened, although her district is historically competitive to begin with. Rep. Henry Waxman, with his Westside and heavily Jewish base, probably has nothing to fear.

California’s congressional delegation also includes three other Jewish members, Tom Lantos, from Northern California, and Bob Filner and Susan A. Davis in the San Diego area. Filner presently faces a challenge from California Assemblymember and former City Councilman Juan Vargas.

So is a threat to Jewish incumbents reason enough for a Jewish voter to think twice about supporting Proposition 77 — especially when there are critics who take issue with the measure on other grounds? On the other hand, American Jews have traditionally lent support to causes that uplift marginalized communities. Wouldn’t it be fair to make it more likely that a Latino would represent a community comprised mostly of Latinos?

This Jewish side effect is one of many considerations posed by Proposition 77, one of a wearying welter of measures on the Nov. 8 ballot. The initiative would take the power to redraw legislative districts away from the California legislature and place it in the hands of three retired judges. It also would accelerate redistricting — changing things almost immediately rather than waiting for the next round of census data. Proposition 77 would apply both to state legislators and members of Congress, like Berman.

The ostensible goal of redistricting after a census is to keep the population of residents about the same in each district. Politically, a twin aim has been to keep incumbents in office, a strategy that is abetted by both Democrats and Republicans.

Up to this point, redistricting has worked in Berman’s favor, sharply reducing the percentage of Latino voters in his district, although Latinos currently make up a majority of his district’s residents. His current district cuts across the eastern heart of the San Fernando Valley, running east of the 405 Freeway and south of the 210 Freeway. When he was first elected, Berman’s district had just a 22 percent Latino electorate. An alternative map, put forth by the Rose Institute at Claremont-McKenna Colleges as more “fair,” would result in Berman representing an area in which 66 percent of the voting-age population is Latino.

Berman opposes Proposition 77, but also insists that he works hard to be, on merit, the first choice of his district’s Latino voters. He is a long-time supporter of rights for agrarian workers, many of whom are Mexican nationals — an issue that has resonance even for U.S.-born Latinos — and he’s served for 23 years on Congress’s immigration subcommittee. Berman said he spends more effort on the bread-and-butter issues of the northern, more Latino end of his district than he does in the south.

Then there’s the symbolism of the 2004 Veteran’s Day parade.

“The first Veteran’s Day parade in the San Fernando Valley is centered in Pacoima — not Sherman Oaks, not Granada Hills,” Berman said.

So it was that veterans from both world wars, Korea and Vietnam marched down the streets of a largely Mexican-American community in the north San Fernando Valley. And they’re going to do it again this year, winding up in the park named after Mexican American rock star Ritchie Valens, of “La Bamba” fame. Latinos, Mexican Americans in particular, have always signed up for the U.S. military in outsize numbers, Berman noted, despite facing discrimination and exclusion at home. The same goes, he added, for the war in Iraq — a disproportionate number of Latinos from his district, native-born and immigrant alike, headed off to serve.

Supporters of Proposition 77 assert that there is ample reason for all voters, Jewish and otherwise, to shake-up the status quo.

The conservatively inclined Rose Institute doesn’t take a position on Proposition 77, but it released a study in September calling for an overhaul of the present system.

“Here in California , the need for reform is clear and almost universally acknowledged,” the report’s executive summary says. “The 2001 gerrymander is likely to live on as a lesson in the abuses that can occur when incumbents are in control….”

The study makes its case with maps of zigzagging districts, including one, California Congressional District 23, that it dubs the “Ribbon of Shame.” District 23 has become a narrow band that twists south along the coast from San Luis Obispo County down to Ventura, connected at places with a razor thin slice of territory. It is represented by Democrat Lois Capps.

Redistricting cuts many ways. The 2001 plan suddenly made the seat of Brad Sherman shakier, shifting thousands of Latino voters to him from Berman, leading to some public sniping between Berman and Sherman.

At one point, the mapping marooned Sherman’s home at the end of a sliver surrounded by Berman’s new district. To top it off, the architect of the re-draw was veteran political consultant Michael Berman — to be sure, he’s well qualified, but he’s also the brother of incumbent Howard Berman. In the end, Sherman was able to keep his residence within a larger swath of his district.

The Democratic head of California’s Senate Redistricting Committee told Sherman, in effect, to shut up and accept it. A majority of the Latino legislative members, 16 of 19, voted in support of the redistricting plan — a show of fealty to the California Democratic caucus and Democratic control of the legislature. And both Sherman and Berman have survived in office.

But the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) sued. MALDEF argued that the redistricting could have concentrated Latino voters in a new district instead of splitting them between Sherman and Berman. A panel of three federal judges ruled against MALDEF, saying the overall results of all the redrawn districts did not discriminate against Latinos.

But the issue never subsided. Author and commentator Joel Kotkin, who supports Proposition 77, said that the current lines have polarized the California legislature, contributing to governmental gridlock with politically safe ultra-liberals opposed by politically safe ultra-conservatives.

“What we have done is dysfunctional,” he said. “We have too many liberal Democrats and too many conservative Republicans.”

In that argument, Kotkin is echoing Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has endorsed Proposition 77 as a central element of his “reform” package of initiatives.

A more moderate and effective state Legislature should matter to all voters, including Jews, Kotkin said. Besides, he added, “I don’t think somebody being Jewish is the issue as much as whether that person represents the interests of the district.”

Nor is he worried that that California’s congressional delegation would be less pro-Israel if the Jewish Democrats were to fall.

“The old Waxman and Berman kind of politicians — liberal on other issues and good on Israel — will find it increasingly difficult as internal pressure within the Democratic Party becomes increasingly anti-Israel,” Kotkin said.

There’s a dose of politics embedded in Kotkin’s analysis, including a presumption that, over time, Republicans will be better for Israel, better for Jews and maybe better for Californians.

In fact, to many critics of Proposition 77, the initiative is all about politics and not so much about fairness.

Schwarzenegger wants a more acquiescent legislature, and this is his way of getting it, said Peter Dreier, a professor of politics at Occidental College who directs the school’s Urban & Environmental Policy Program.

“Arnold may call it a technical maneuver, but it’s about eliminating Democratic safe seats,” said the left-leaning Dreier, who opposes Proposition 77: “Republicans are very good at playing hardball and masquerading blatant power grabs as good government.”

Another lefty analyst, Harold Meyerson, takes issue with Kotkin’s implication that Jewish Democratic incumbents can be sacrificed because the best pro-Israel politicians of the future will be Republicans. While most members of the California Democratic caucus are not aligned with “hardline Israeli politicos,” Meyerson said, there’s a consensus of support for Israel within the caucus.

For some districts, the issue isn’t Democrat-to-Republican, but it could well be Jewish-to-Latino.

“A few of these districts might have Democrats of other ethnicities if they weren’t carved the way they were,” said Meyerson, editor at large for American Prospect and political editor of the L.A. Weekly.

There are, of course, other hard-boiled political considerations. The Jewish members of Congress have accumulated seniority, which helps them play key roles in matters pertaining both to Israel and broader foreign policy.

“This is a case of five members [from Southern California] who are interested in international relations in general and U.S.-Israel relations in particular,” Berman said. He, along with Reps. Schiff and Sherman, serve on the International Relations Committee; Rep. Harman sits on the Intelligence Committee.

Berman points to his 22 years as a member of the Foreign Relations Committee: “I know Israeli leadership, Palestinian leadership, maybe some Saudi leadership. There’s a lot of time and experience there.”

Still, it’s hard to find anyone who will outright defend a system that is gruesomely gerrymandered to protect incumbents. But for leftie progressives there’s more at stake than the downside of the status quo. For them, the California congressional delegation sits as a bulwark against the George Bush Conservative Republican majority — whose own members hail from equally gerrymandered states. In better times (for Democrats), the California delegation could become the lynchpin of an emerging Democratic — and more liberally Democratic — majority. That’s not something that progressive Democrats, such as Meyerson and Dreier, want to let Schwarzenegger tamper with.

The year 2005 may prove a watershed year for Jews politicians in Southern California. In addition to the members of Congress, Bob Hertzberg nearly made the mayoral runoff; the L.A. City government has three Jewish council members (though it recently had seven) and a Jewish city controller (Laura Chick); Jewish members hold three of seven seats on the Board of Education. It hasn’t been so many years since Jews weren’t allowed on some local golf courses. But influence — or even a seat at the table — can be as fleeting as rapidly evolving demographics. Just ask African Americans, who worked so hard to win voting rights, but who have already lost majority status in many parts of town.

But does it matter for Jews, who are so thoroughly intergrated into L.A. life and commerce?

It does for Howard Welinsky, a longtime Democratic Party activist who’s also prominent in the Jewish community and civic affairs.

“What is now at stake,” he said, “is that in Los Angeles, we have five Jewish members of Congress. And they’re all at risk.”

It matters to Welinsky that, “in the history of this country — and I’ve researched it — we’ve never had five Jewish members of Congress in one county. I can’t imagine anything that has greater impact in Jews in Los Angeles than this.”

For Welinsky, it’s not exactly about being pro-Israel, even though he certainly is. He’s taken with historicity of having five Jewish members from one area. Perhaps it’s comparable to the current reconfiguration at work in the Jewish heart of Fairfax Avenue. Why does it matter that a kosher grocery store, a shop selling Judaica and a place offering music from all over the Jewish Diaspora might fold to make room for pricey, non-Jewish boutiques that can afford the higher rents?

Only because, to some people, it does.

As for Berman’s fate, “I don’t think Howard Berman would lose, but those who have not been in those seats very long might find themselves facing well-funded campaigns by Latinos and other groups,” said Assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg, who opposes Proposition 77, even though she thinks the present system needs improvement.

Goldberg herself represents a majority Latino voter district.

“They vote, And they picked me,” she said. “Why did they pick me? Because I look out for the interests of the communities I serve. And that’s what they cared about more than my ethnicity.

“There are people in the population who vote their race, their gender their ethnicity, their sexual orientation,” she said. “I don’t think they’re the majority. People really do care about what you’re going to do when you get there.”

Shifting political nuances make these judgments ever more complex. Rep. Filner, a Jewish member being challenged by a Latino candidate, spent time in jail as a Freedom Rider, clearly reflecting concern for the interests of people of color. His opponent, Assemblyman Juan Vargas, is “pro-life,” inconsistent on civil liberties issues, but liberal on immigration. The district’s population already is 55 percent Latino, 18 percent Anglo, 15 percent Filipino and 12 percent African American.

Jewish Assemblywoman Hannah Beth Jackson, from a district that includes Santa Barbara and Oxnard, was termed out and replaced by Pedro Nava, who ran on an environmentalist platform, a position well in tune with most Jews.

Coalition politics involving Jews has frequently worked well for L.A.’s Latinos, and vice versa. Former Rep. Edward Roybal, the groundbreaking Latino who died last month, was first elected to Los Angeles City Council by a Latino-Jewish-labor coalition. And then there’s Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who grew up in formerly Jewish East Los Angeles and rose to office with broad Jewish support.

“Jews and others can represent communities of color,” said Jaime Regalado, executive director of the Edmund “Pat” Brown Institute for Public Affairs. “That has never really been the argument against apparent dilution of Latino or other minority voting strength in a particular political or voting system. It is all about fairness, in being able to elect a representative of the community’s choice on a level playing field.”

Proposition 77, almost inevitably, could make Congress less Jewish. But that’s just a starting point for addressing the question of whether Proposition 77 is good for California.

Community Briefs


 

Prepare to Be Redistricted

Welcome to the political New Year in California, where the partisan warfare begins as soon as the champagne runs out. Most of the aggravation at the moment is revolving around Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s broken promise to public schools – but there’s a far deeper political debate brewing, as well.

The issue is redistricting, included as one of the Republican governor’s four main points of reform in his recent State of the State address. Essentially, the question is whether to take away the power of politicians to strike deals with each other on how their own districts are drawn. For Jewish Los Angeles and its familiar political faces, that could mean landing in a new Assembly, state Senate or congressional district with a new representative.

Schwarzenegger points to the fact that not a single congressional seat changed parties in the 2004 elections because both parties colluded to carve out safe regions for themselves to mutual advantage.

Redistricting is only supposed to happen once a decade after each census, but Schwarzenegger can’t wait that long to fight for the people, so he’s backing a state constitutional amendment introduced by Bakersfield Republican Assemblyman Kevin McCarthy. The amendment would put redistricting in the hands of a commission of retired judges.

Some Democrats, like Westside state Sen. Sheila Kuehl, are accusing Schwarzenegger of trying to pull a Tom DeLay-style Texas power grab, where midcensus Republican redistricting netted the GOP four extra House of Representative seats in 2004.

But California is not Texas, and some local Jewish Democrats are not worried.

“I waiver between indifference and welcoming it,” Rep. Howard Berman (D-North Hollywood) told The Journal.

Berman’s two criteria for supporting redistricting by a committee of judges are that they do not take into consideration any political data on citizens when drawing the maps, and that they do not try to achieve any partisan result.

“There may be some inconveniences for existing Democratic incumbents, but in the end a fair and legal redistricting is going to more likely help my party than hurt it,” Berman said.

With Democrats firmly in control of California (Arnie excepted), Berman said redistricting would be far more dangerous to GOP incumbents.

Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks) agrees, saying that there are senior Republican congressmen who could be in electoral trouble if their districts are redrawn: “This is chiefly a Democratic state.”

Sherman estimated that if every district were a microcosm of the state as a whole, Democrats would win all 53, “with the exception of those where Republicans could recruit a candidate with 22-inch biceps.”

Sherman’s major concern on the issue is the sheer cost of re-educating the public about who their representatives are.

And as for Los Angeles’ Jewish communities, Berman said that they can rest assured that whichever district and representatives they end up with will “be quite responsive” to their needs, whether or not they are Jewish.

Mayoral Debate: Different Place, Same Themes

On Jan. 13, a snarling traffic jam surrounded Temple Beth Am on the Westside. Inside, the five major L.A. mayoral candidates debated public policy just out of earshot of furious commuters.

All of the substantive questions that night were provided by the Jewish audience on tiny slips of paper read by the moderator (who, not incidentally, was late because she got stuck in traffic).

Familiar themes repeated themselves: Mayor James Hahn emphasizing decreasing violent crime, Councilman Bernard Parks accusing Hahn of corruption, state Sen. Richard Alarcon promoting his government ethics initiative, former Assembly Speaker Bob Hertzberg preaching innovation in government and Councilman Antonio Villaraigosa riding his wave of optimism.

The candidates were discouraged from addressing each other directly because there was no opportunity for rebuttal. This was a forum for the people.

On the particularly apropos issue of mediating L.A. traffic, Hahn uninspiringly told the crowd that “we all have to recognize there’s no magic bullet…. There’s a lot of little things.”

Villaraigosa spoke of extending mass transit rail to the ocean, though the MTA reports that just reaching to Culver City will take until 2010.

Hertzberg seemed to have the most thoughtful traffic plan in his Commuter’s Bill of Rights, which focuses on putting L.A. commerce and industry on a more dispersed schedule rather than the usual sunrise-sunset gridlock. Whether he could actually enact those provisions as mayor, such as keeping heavy trucks off the road during rush hour, is another question.

On the issue of the local economy, Parks blasted Hahn’s administration for failing to attract more large business headquarters. He said Los Angeles, which has none, pales in comparison to Atlanta, which boasts 30. Alarcon took the opposite tack, saying, “We cannot acquiesce to multinational corporations,” but rather ensure that the L.A. working class has decent wages.

The widest diversity of opinion came on the topic of crime. Parks, a former police chief, said the LAPD enjoys too many perks for too little work, Hahn said the LAPD needs more money and Hertzberg accused the mayor of wastefulness in asking for more funds when only 3 percent of all new city income since 2001 was spent on police.

New Math for Population Growth

A huge and growing Palestinian population in the West Bank and Gaza, popularized in Israel as the “demographic bomb,” reinforces the notion that much of the territories are untenable for Israel to retain.

But now, even as disengagement proceeds, Los Angeles businessman Bennett Zimmerman and a team of researchers are claiming that only 2.4 million Palestinians live in the West Bank and Gaza combined – about 1 million fewer than leading Israeli demographers had projected and 1.4 million fewer than the Palestinians claim.

Bennett’s report is making the rounds at Republican bastions like the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute.

The new study focuses on several supposed mistakes in the previous data. Among the differences in the new study: It prefers Palestinian Ministry of Health birth records over statistical projections, it claims to find a high level of emigration from the territories and it found a case of double counting, where 210,000 Jerusalem Arabs who were already counted in Israel’s population survey were included in the P.A. survey.

“If you look at the reports of [demographers] Arnon Soffer or Sergio Della Pergola, they use numbers issued by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics [PBS] in their forecasts,” Zimmerman said. “We say that the projection from the PBS didn’t come to be.”

The study has not gone unnoticed by other researchers in the field. Demographer Della Pergola spoke to The Journal from Israel: “I gladly acknowledge that the effects of international migration should be computed, but there are very limited possibilities for absorption of Palestinians abroad.”

The main discussion is about fertility, said Della Pergola. He questioned the quality of the Ministry of Health records, which point to fewer births.

“The U.N. has shown that it is much better to prefer a [statistical] model when actual data collection is totally inadequate,” he said.

He noted there has been a long tradition of underreporting “vital events” like births by the Palestinians.

And as for the fertility rate, Della Pergola said that Zimmerman’s team used Jordan as a model (which has low average birthrate) for the Palestinians, rather than the Israeli Arab model (which is much higher).

Zimmerman said his team was simply trying to audit the existing data.

“Ours was a question of verification,” he said.

Della Pergola isn’t buying it: “I find here an attempt to fit the data to their preconceptions. It is based on total ignorance of the scientific literature.”

 

Mayor’s Race Role


With Councilman Antonio Villaraigosa’s entry into the 2005 Los Angeles mayor’s race, the competition for Jewish votes will accelerate.

Jews are attentive, high-propensity voters. Nearly one in five Los Angeles voters are Jewish (with only 6 percent of the population). If past history is a guide, however, the Jewish vote will play a more important role in the expected runoff between the two top candidates than in the multicandidate primary.

During the Tom Bradley years (1973 to 1993), Jews voted consistently for him against conservative candidates. Since Bradley left office, however, Jewish voters have dispersed in city elections. Loyal Democrats in state and national politics, Jews are less predictable in city campaigns.

As the Republican electorate has shrunk, Los Angeles voters increasingly will be choosing among different types of Democrats, anyway. The three leading contenders: Mayor James K. Hahn, former Assembly Speaker Bob Hertzberg and Villaraigosa have won lots of Jewish votes in the past.

How will they do next year? And what about Councilman Bernard C. Parks and Valley state Sen. Richard Alarcon? In a sense, all the candidates are heirs to the progressive, Democratic, interracial vision of Bradley.

We do know that in the post-Bradley era, Jewish voters have given considerable support to Jewish candidates in the mayoral primary. In 1993, Jews gave a combined 52 percent of their primary votes to Joel Wachs and Richard Katz. In 2001, Jews gave 49 percent of their primary votes to Wachs and Steve Soboroff.

These examples bode well for Hertzberg, as the only Jewish candidate in the primary. On the other hand, none of the previous Jewish candidates made it to the runoff.

We also know that Jewish voters are more than willing to vote for non-Jewish candidates. In 2001, Villaraigosa led all primary candidates with 26 percent of the Jewish vote, powering him to a first-place primary showing. Villaraigosa was particularly strong in 2001 among Westside, liberal Jews, although he did very well among Valley Jews, as well.

And Hahn has been no slouch with Jewish voters. In 1997, he was opposed for re-election as city attorney by Ted Stein and won 60 percent of the Jewish vote. He has done well with Jewish voters in all his citywide races.

Parks has been cultivating the Jewish community since his election, with frequent references to the Bradley coalition. He will be competing with Villaraigosa for Jewish voters who favor cross-racial politics and with Hahn on public safety. Alarcon will compete with Hertzberg for Valley votes.

If Jewish voters scatter in the primary, with the most liberal Jews backing Villaraigosa, and moderate and conservative Jews supporting Hahn; a majority, regardless of ideology, backing Hertzberg, and others for Parks and Alarcon, then the greatest impact of the Jewish vote will be in the runoff election between the top two primary finishers.

For Bradley, holding and increasing his Jewish support from the primary to the runoff was the difference between making it to the mayor’s chair and bitter defeat. In 1969, his Jewish support in the primary did not translate into the runoff, where Sam Yorty’s scare campaign drove many Jewish voters away from Bradley. In 1973, Bradley held and greatly expanded his Jewish primary base into the runoff, and the rest is history.

In 1993, Richard Riordan, running on public safety, went from a paltry 21 percent of the Jewish primary vote to nearly half in the runoff, helping him to defeat Michael Woo. In 2001, Hahn outdistanced Villaraigosa in the runoff, with a tough anti-crime message and harsh advertising.

Hahn’s Jewish backing more than tripled from the primary, from 16 percent to 54 percent, while Villaraigosa rose from 26 percent to only 46 percent. These final Jewish totals exactly mirrored the overall city result of the runoff election.

In both cases, the winning candidate led with law and order and made the opponent appear to be an untested too-liberal choice. Even though Jews are, among white voters, surprisingly liberal, local elections tend to bring out their concerns about crime and other issues that make them more of a center-left constituency.

The most likely candidates for the two runoff spots are Hahn, Villaraigosa and Hertzberg, although nothing can be said with certainty. Those who don’t make the runoff will also have an impact in whom, if anybody, they endorse in the runoff.

Hahn’s greatest re-election asset is likely to be public safety, and his popular police chief, William Bratton. He can make the case that he has turned the troubled LAPD around and held the city together against secession (which Jewish voters strongly opposed).

This will appeal to Jewish voters, as will his generally moderate style and his long experience in Los Angeles government. The scandals at city hall, on the other hand, will hurt him among reform-minded Jewish voters.

Villaraigosa has long cultivated the Jewish community, has a very strong base among progressive Jews and ran a strong race in 2001. His biggest challenge will be to erode Hahn’s edge on the public safety issue. However, his dynamic personality and the fact that as a councilman he has more experience at city hall than he did in 2001 make him a viable crossover candidate for Jewish voters.

Hertzberg is well-known and well liked among Jewish voters, especially in the Valley, where Hahn has been hurt by his campaign against secession. He has the least city hall experience of the three leading candidates, but has great experience in state government and in public policy. He can appeal to Jewish voters with his tremendous energy, his ideas and his reformist ideology, and if he makes the runoff, being Jewish won’t hurt.

It’s going to be a real horse race.


Raphael J. Sonenshein is a political scientist at California State University, Fullerton. His new book, “The City at Stake: Secession, Reform, and the Battle for Los Angeles,” was just released by Princeton University Press.

You Snooze, You Lose


This is the opposite of hypnosis. I am going to write a word, and you are not going to fall asleep. The word is, Sacramento.

For most of us, state politics function as a kind of conversational snooze button. It’s hard enough to get people involved in the police and pothole issues of municipal governance. It is somewhat easier to keep their interest when it comes to national and international news. Those meaty items play out on the front pages and CNN. But the state is neither milk nor meat, and when the governor strikes so many citizens as pareve — the personification of all that is dull and bureaucratic somewhere to the right of San Francisco — no wonder we tune out.

In the best of times, this arrangement serves both state politicians and their public well. We send them a chunk of money each April 15, then — talk about a blank check — let them do what they will.

But these are among the worst of times, and our ignorance is no longer so bliss.

The state budget is facing a projected $38.2 billion shortfall, and Gov. Gray Davis’ plan to cut spending and increase revenue will have far-reaching effects on our state and our lives. Elementary and higher education, health care, senior services — every neck is on the chopping block. And, conversely, every hand is looking for a pocket: sales tax increases, bond floats of dubious efficacy, car fee hikes.

"It’s a mess," confirmed Assemblyman Keith Richman, the Jewish doctor-turned-Republican legislator. "But it certainly isn’t dull."

I ran into Richman at the Sacramento airport this past Tuesday. He was returning to his district, which encompasses the North San Fernando Valley and most of Simi Valley. I was returning from a visit to the Jewish Public Affairs Committee’s (JPAC) annual foray to the capital. Each year, JPAC organizes informed Jewish activists to converge on legislators and educate them on issues of communal concern.

This year, many participants noticed a drop-off in attendance. About one-third of the participants, who come from Jewish federations, Jewish Community Relations Committees and other Jewish organizations from across the state, were high school and college students. Many others were staff members of Jewish organizations. That left a dwindling number of what Democratic activist Howard Welinsky called, "the influentials," caring volunteer advocates with the money and/or clout to grab a politician’s attention.

Welinsky maintained that the drop-off in participation doesn’t lead legislators to think that Jews no longer care, but others claimed it did. The deeper question is why the trend toward disengagement.

One reason may be a sense that the die is cast, at least as far as this budget cycle is concerned.

"The governor told us there’s no money," said one activist with convincing finality. "There’s no money."

Another reason may be a sense that the capital is the Vegas of politics — what happens in Sacramento stays in Sacramento — and the arcane maneuverings of the Assembly and Senate don’t touch our lives. Nothing could be further from the truth, Richman said. Deep cuts in public health care and public education may not affect all of us directly, but they will have enormous consequences on the larger society to which we belong.

Term limits and redistricting haven’t exactly sparked citizen involvement either. The former makes it difficult to build and nurture relationships with representatives, while forcing out many experienced and effective legislators. The latter makes politicians more dependent on their respective party leadership for ensuring primary victories. The result is a deeply partisan legislative branch that rewards party loyalists and punishes centrists.

"You’re always worried about being outflanked by your extremists," Richman said.

When the assemblyman even suggested the idea of supporting some kind of limited tax or fee increase as a way to offset the deficit, he received a hammering from more-Republican-than-thou talk radio hosts up and down the state. It’s no wonder that, as the California Voter Foundation discovered, "The state’s population is constantly growing while at the same time the percentage of voters who affiliate with the two major parties declines."

A pox on both their houses.

It’s also no wonder that so many Jewish voters, who tend toward the pragmatic center, are turned off by Sacramento. That’s even more of a shame, because, as California’s ethnic populations increase, Jewish voting — to the extent it happens in a bloc — can be even more effective. A Los Angeles Times poll found that in the statewide 2002 elections, non-whites, whose registration numbers are increasing, voted in smaller numbers than in previous gubernatorial elections. White voter turnout increased, and Jews make up a disproportionate percentage of that bloc. What that means is that if Jewish activists choose to use their leverage, they can be effective now and in the foreseeable future.

At a meeting with a handful of Jewish community activists this past week, one assemblyman was openly disdainful.

"This crisis has been two years in the making," he said. "Where were you two years ago?"

More to the point, where are we now?

Unwanted: City Breakup


If the election were held today, secession would fail — at least among Jewish voters, according to a recent Los Angeles Times Poll.

Jewish voters are strongly against secession, more so than any other religious group, according to the July 2 poll. Out of 1,291 total voters surveyed citywide, 168 identified themselves as Jewish; of those voters, 57 percent stated they were against secession and 34 percent said they were for it. Only 9 percent said they were undecided, which Susan Pinkus, director of the Los Angeles Times Poll, said was "very low undecideds for this stage in the game."

Jewish voters were more strongly against secession than the total voters citywide. The Times poll found that citywide, 47 percent of all those surveyed said they were against secession. The numbers for Valley voters only were, not surprisingly, more favorable toward secession, showing 52 percent for and 37 percent against. Although the number of Jewish voters was too low to allow for a breakdown of Valley Jews vs. city Jews, Pinkus said even in the Valley, Jewish voters were strongly against the breakup.

Comparing Jewish voters with other religious groups, Pinkus said the polls showed Catholic voters citywide divided on the issue, with 43 percent against and 40 percent for secession, while Protestants were closer in their votes to Jewish voters, with 50 percent against and 35 percent in favor of the breakup. However, unlike the results from Jewish voters, those trends reversed when applied to only Valley residents, reflecting the general population’s leanings.

Jewish leaders, many of whom are themselves against secession, said they were not surprised by the poll’s findings.

"I’m not surprised, but I am pleased to hear the majority of Jewish voters are against secession," said Rabbi Mark Diamond, executive vice president of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California.

Diamond spent more than a year studying the Valley, Hollywood and Harbor secession proposals as part of a task force for the Council of Religious Leaders.

"The status quo is clearly not working, but proponents of secession would have to make their case that it will significantly improve the lives of residents both in the city and the Valley, and I think they have failed that test," he said. "In addition, as a religious leader I have a special concern for the needs of the poor and the disenfranchised. To date, I have seen no firm data that would demonstrate the folks in favor of secession really have the interests of the poor at heart."

Rabbi Don Goor of Temple Judea, which has campuses in Tarzana and West Hills, said he believes Jewish voters in the Valley would naturally be uncomfortable with the idea of breaking off from the city of Los Angeles.

"We understand the value of being a part of a larger community and believe very deeply in community. In fact, there is a quote from the Mishnah that says ‘Al tifrosh min hatzibur,’ which means, ‘Don’t separate yourself from the community,’" Goor said. "The other thing to consider is that the Jewish community in Los Angeles has been very successful at building coalitions and making sure the values important to us are heard at the citywide level. I would hate for that to be lost."

But secession proponents say the Times Poll results contradict the feedback they receive from Jewish sources.

"The results are contrary to what we hear out in the Jewish community," said Richard Close, chairman of Valley VOTE and longtime president of the Sherman Oaks Homeowners Association. "For my friends and associates who are Jewish, particularly those in the Valley, it is a question of smaller city council districts and more responsive government, and so they favor [secession]."

Regarding Diamond’s comments, Close pointed out that, as noted in a recent article in the Daily News, "The city of Los Angeles gives the least amount of help to its poor compared to any of the surrounding communities like Burbank and Glendale. So I do not think Los Angeles is the city to look to as an example of what we could be doing for the poor."

"There is also more to the issue than just the poor," Close continued. "The middle class is leaving the city and the Valley in droves, businesses are leaving in droves because of inadequate police and paramedic services and because of the poor quality of the schools. If we’re concerned about the poor, we should also be concerned about the middle class."

Still, if the Times Poll is accurate, the majority of Jewish voters would agree with Goor’s analysis of secession.

"I think it’s against our interests politically and against our principles Jewishly," Goor concluded.

Down to the Wire


Los Angeles Jews agonized along with the rest of the country as the results from the Nov. 7 election trickled in. Hardly as split as the rest of the nation, Jews in California preferred Al Gore to George Bush 82 to 15 percent. Nationally, Gore received 79 percent of the Jewish vote, according to CNN exit polls and Voter News Service (for national stories, see page 36).

The smoke in the presidential race hadn’t cleared much at all by Wednesday afternoon, but Jews around the city still had strong reactions to those races and ballot measures that were decided.

Howard Welinsky, longtime Democratic activist and chair of Democrats for Israel, saw an upbeat note for his side in the increased number of Jewish congressmen elected locally.

“With the elections of Adam Schiff and Jane Harman and the reelection of Henry Waxman, Howard Berman and Brad Sherman, the Los Angeles area will have a record of five Jewish representatives,” said Welinsky. Thanks mainly to the good California showing, which included the election of Susan Davis in San Diego, Jewish membership in the House, which now stands at 23, will rise to 27. If two undecided races break the right way, that number might rise to 29, he said.

With the possibility of a Bush administration looking more likely by the hour, Jewish leaders and analysts said they didn’t think the overwhelming Jewish support for Gore would hurt U.S.-Israel relations or the Republican’s relations with American Jewry.

“During a campaign, a lot of things are said. I think we have to wait until we see who wins, who the president will appoint to cabinet positions, which I believe are very key to the articulation of policies,” said John Fishel, president of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. “I have to assume that whoever is elected to the presidency in the end, the relationship with Israel will remain strong.”

Fishel said the close split in the presidential vote and in congressional representation along party lines will make governing “a big challenge for whomever is in the White House.”

“The Jewish vote for Gore-Lieberman will have zero effect on Mideast policy,” said Republican political analyst Arnold Steinberg. “There are many Republican members of Congress and U.S. senators who have received little Jewish support or who represent districts or states with few Jewish voters. But they have supported Israel.” Politically, Steinberg said, “Bush has shown himself to be strategic as well as tactical. That is, he would be looking toward the future, not the past.”

In perhaps the most closely watched congressional race ever in California, Democratic State Sen. Adam Schiff took control of the House seat held by two-term Republican Rep. James Rogan, winning by a comfortable 9 percent margin. With the presidency still hanging in the balance Wednesday but likely to go to Gov. Bush, Schiff said he hoped if Bush won he would take the high road in his dealings with the Democrats in Congress.

“If we have a Republican majority in Congress and a Republican president, they would be wise to take a lesson from Gov. Gray Davis, who although a Democratic governor with a Democratic majority in the state legislature recognizes that a bipartisan product is a better product,” Schiff told The Journal Wednesday afternoon.

Democrat Paul Koretz, West Hollywood city councilman and mayor pro tem, said he was thrilled to be elected to represent the 42nd Assembly District, which covers much of West Los Angeles and parts of the San Fernando Valley. He said he hoped to be the “go-to guy” for the Los Angeles Jewish community, representing the community on valued issues like hate crimes legislation and better schools.

“From my point of view, having a Democratic majority [in the California Legislature] is very beneficial, because we will be able to pass everything from gun control to a decent living wage for workers,” Koretz said. “With the amount of prosperity we have had in the state, we need to make sure the CEOs making millions are not paying their people only minimum wage. I’d also like to see us strengthen our environmental protection and improve our educational infrastructure so that we do not stay at the bottom of per-pupil spending.”

The results on at least two ballot measures provoked more strong reactions.

Harriet Rossetto, executive director of Gateways Beit T’shuvah in Venice, rejoiced in the passage of Proposition 36, which requires California to treat nonviolent drug offenders rather than incarcerate them.”I’m 100 percent for it,” said Rossetto, who called the passing of the initiative “the only good news in this election. It will not only mean money for treatment but an opportunity to redefine how we handle a social problem.”

“I watched with great interest the swinging of the pendulum from the penalty of three strikes to a more humane notion of helping addicts to seek help,” said Rossetto. “I’m hopeful that it will impact our facility by some of the $120 million finding its way to Beit Teshuvah,” which she believes serves as a model for faith-based rehab facilities nationwide.

Proposition 38, the school voucher initiative, was soundly defeated, which came as good news to Ron Reynolds, director of school services at the Bureau of Jewish Education.

“It was striking that the Catholic bishops failed to support the measure and did so because it was universal in nature rather than restricting the awarding of scholarships to those with the greatest financial need,” said Reynolds, who is also president of the California Association of Private School Organizations. “This time around, the Jewish community contemplated the concept [of vouchers] at greater length and in greater depth. All of us as citizens and residents of this state are still left with the question of how we can best reform our public education system.”

Journal writers Tom Tugend, Michael Aushenker, Wendy Madnick and Beverly Gray contributed to this story.

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Election Reactions


Favorite sons George W. Bush and Al Gore scored their knockout victories Tuesday. CNN and NPR reported that insurgent Senators McCain and Bradley were preparing to exit the presidential election campaign following their disappointing results.

Many Jewish activists, however, found the most significant election news, however, in less global, more local results.

The overwhelming “Yes” vote for Proposition 22, reaffirming that only marriages between a man and a woman are valid in California received different reactions. “The Yes vote [on Prop. 22] is a strong indication of traditional sentiment, and that the ‘No’ campaign has not worked — especially in its suggestion that a Yes vote is a vote for violence,” said Arnold Steinberg, a Republican political strategist.

The strong vote for Prop. 22 seemed to reaffirm a “common sense” definition of marriage for many voters. “All people should be free to make their own personal relationship choices without redefining marriage for an entire society,” concluded Howard Winkler, who directs Community Research and Information Center, a largely Jewish, conservative political group. “If Prop. 22 had failed, then the word marriage would have become meaningless in California.”

A more liberal, and disappointed longtime Jewish activist, who wished to remain anonymous, saw the election results differently: “There was a percentage of the majority of voters who had no idea what they were voting for. Some people voted innocently for Prop. 22, and some voted out of anti-gay propaganda.” Prop. 22 passed with approximately 60 percent of the vote.

“I think it’s sad,” said Democratic activist Howard Welinsky. “The McCain campaign probably brought out more conservative voters, and helped create the lopsided result.”