August 23, 2019

Local Jews Win, Mostly

While Republicans swept in the national elections, with the GOP reclaiming the Senate and retaining their majority in the house, in California, Democrats made a strong showing, winning every statewide office.

In Southern California, Jewish candidates overwhelmed in the local races.

In California, where redistricting designed by the Democratic-controlled Legislature left very few competitive electoral races, “The best news is that there was no news,” according to Democrats for Israel Chair Howard Welinsky. He emphasized that top statewide offices were in good hands, noting in particular that “Gray Davis has always been very close to the Jewish community. He literally sits at Stephen S. Wise on Rosh Hashana on the bimah every year.”

Incumbent Jewish assemblymembers from the greater Los Angeles area produced strong re-election numbers. Republican Keith Richman retained his 38th District seat, and would have been mayor of the City of San Fernando Valley if such a thing existed. Jewish Democrats had the numeric advantage in the Assembly though, as Paul Koretz (West Hollywood), Hannah-Beth Jackson (Santa Barbara), Jackie Goldberg (Los Angeles), Alan Lowenthal (Long Beach) and Darrell Steinberg (Sacramento) all won re-elections with at least 60 percent of the votes. “California’s pretty much a status quo situation,” Welinsky said.

Aside from Richman, Jewish Republicans did not fare as well in California. Jewish Democrat Lloyd Levine beat his Jewish Republican opponent Connie Friedman to take over the 40th District seat, vacated because of term limits by former Speaker Bob Hertzberg. Michael Wissot lost out to popular Assembly incumbent Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills).

“We are significantly unhappy about what happened [in California],” said Bruce Bialosky, Southern California chairman of the Republican Jewish Committee. “Unfortunately, California is not heeding the trends that the rest of the country is heeding.”

In an extremely close state office race with the potential to affect the financial relationship between California and Israel, the office of state controller went to Democrat Steve Westly, who took in only 0.4 percent of the vote more than his Republican rival Tom McClintock (the candidate with the funny ads featuring ethnic stereotypes of Scotsmen). The controller is a voting member on the California Public Employees Retirement System and the California State Teachers Retirement System pension funds, which some have suggested should divest the portion of their $250 billion from any country doing business with Israel. During the campaign, Westly said, “I’ve been very outspoken that this is precisely the wrong time to do that.”

Similarly, the state insurance commissioner can exercise significant leverage over insurance companies that owe money to Holocaust survivors or their heirs, by enforcing a law whose constitutionality was recently upheld in court. Democrat John Garamendi, who regained the office he held from 1991-1995, told The Journal during his campaign, “If companies in California don’t comply with this law, I will have no option but to pull the license.”

Six Jewish Appellate Court justices — Judith Ashmann, Arthur Gilbert, Richard Mosk, Dennis Perluss, Steven Perren and Laurence Rubin — won 12-year reappointments to the 2nd District Court of Appeal, which covers Los Angeles and Ventura Counties.

On the national stage, California’s eight Jewish members of Congress, all Democrats, cruised to comfortable victories, despite running in redrawn districts. (For more on the national race, see page 22.)

Incumbents Howard Berman, Susan Davis, Bob Filner, Jane Harman, Adam Schiff, Brad Sherman and Henry Waxman all retained their seats.

Sherman defeated Republican Robert M. Levy in the only California congressional race pitting two Jews against each other.

In the San Francisco Bay area, Tom Lantos, the only Holocaust survivor serving in Congress and a strong pro-Israel voice, easily defeated two opponents with pronounced pro-Palestinian views, Republican Michael Moloney and Libertarian Maad H. Abu-Ghazalah. The latter is a native of the West Bank and a former president of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee.

California’s two Jewish senators, Diane Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, both Democrats, were not up for re-election.

The majority of Jewish voters, who in pre-election polls had opposed the secession of the San Fernando Valley and Hollywood from the city of Los Angeles, saw the measures go down to defeat.

Bialosky added that local Republican Jews “could not be happier” about the national results of the elections, citing especially Norm Coleman, the new Jewish Republican senator from Minnesota, and Linda Lingle, the Jewish Republican governor of Hawaii.

Tom Tugend contributed to this report.