Warning to the 34th ! Don’t Underestimate the Berniecrats!

EASTSIDER-When the dust cleared from the 23 candidate race to replace Xavier Becerra in the 34th Congressional District Special Election, Mariel Garza of the Los Angeles Times couldn’t resist a condescending Opinion piece with the pretentious title of LA voters didn’t just turn their backs on Berniecrat progressivism, they went positively Clintonesque.  

We’ll get into why this is balderdash in a bit, but first a confession from yours truly. I totally forgot that the boundaries of the 34th Congressional District don’t match up at all with the City Council boundaries. It basically covers all of CD1 and CD14, as well as all of Koreatown – as opposed to the Wesson-led effort that came up with the gerrymandered redistricting map that chopped Koreatown into four City Council Districts.

As a result, I didn’t check the financial reporting until it came out a few days before the election, and discovered Robert Ahn, who was not terribly visible in my area of town but still scored something like $500,000 in contributions as of that last reporting period before the election. Shame on me, and let’s hear it for Ahn, who came in second in the race and will face Jimmy Gomez in the June 6 runoff. My bad. 

Behind the Primary Numbers 

While Gomez and Ahn are the survivors of the primary, let’s not forget that between the two of them, they got less than 48 percent of the vote (25% and 22%) and nine of the 23 candidates got over 1000 votes, with Maria Cabildo scoring over 10% (4259.) That ain’t bad. From my point of view, these numbers repudiate the assumptions buried in the Times OpEd that it’s business as usual. 

Those numbers demonstrate to me exactly what the “Bernie Revolution” was really about -- creating the next generation of younger, grassroots, bottom-up progressive democrats that will take over the ho-hum Democratic Party establishment. Good for them and shame on Mariel Garza and the Times

And while Garza’s piece was written before the final tally, the actual final turnout numbers were 14% of eligible voters, not the 10% she reported. That represents some 43,000 voters, of which over 50% were vote by mail. While that is not a huge number, it isn’t terrible in a year where we have had election after election, with more to come, and a number of my friends have complained about voter burnout. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could rationalize our voting system? 

Also, the voting shift from going to the polls vs. mail-in-balloting is getting progressively larger, courtesy of the permanent vote-by-mail, called “permanent absentee voter” in Registrar-ese. I think that the 50% number is going to continue to grow, as people become less interested in taking their decreasing personal time to actually go to the polls on Election Day, and are more comfortable with social media and other not-in-the-flesh ways of communication. 

Democratic Clubs and the 34th Congressional District 

In large part because of all the interesting and contentious elections in what used to be boring old Northeast LA, our Democratic clubs have been growing by leaps and bounds. At last week’s Northeast Dems endorsement debate, around 200 members packed the venue to hear Gil Cedillo and Joe Bray-Ali. And these were actual dues paying members, since you had to be a member to vote. Good for them. 

I won’t get into the NEDC’s CD1 endorsement debate, since it mirrored other recent debates between incumbent Gil Cedillo and challenger Joe Bray-Ali. I will only say that the vote was overwhelmingly in favor of Gil Cedillo. The one variable I’m not quite sure about is that in the “old” days you had to have been a member by the beginning of the year to vote. I heard that the new criteria had a much shorter time frame and might have been responsible for the dramatic increase in the club’s numbers for this endorsement vote. 

As for the EAPD (East Area Progressives), they have had almost a geometrical membership growth, and are probably at around 800 members as I write this column. 

Since the Northeast Dems endorsed Jimmy Gomez before the primary and the East LA Progressive Dems have not yet made an endorsement, it made the April 25 meeting important. 

I will again have to admit that I wasn’t familiar with Robert Lee Ahn until recently -- I don’t go to Planning Commission meetings because I believe that they either do what the Council tells them or the Council will overrule whatever action they take. Mr. Ahn is on that Commission and it would have been helpful to see him in action, notwithstanding the City Council’s 15-0 closed ranks “we don’t care what the Planning Commission thinks” attitude. 

So I’m glad I attended the EAPD meeting. From a very articulate and passionate pitch by Mr. Ahn’s surrogate, Peter Choi, I will admit that I am fascinated, and want to learn more, not to mention meet and greet Robert Lee Ahn. A native Angeleno, (LAC/USC Hospital) he came up in the Congressional District, and ultimately became a practicing public interest attorney after obtaining his law degree from USC. 

His resume is seriously impressive. In addition to being on the LA City Planning Commission, he reads like an honest-to-god-no-kidding Bernie progressive, kind of like Joseph Bray-Ali in CD1, but this time, a straight-up lifer grassroots democrat with a real progressive track record. And a public interest lawyer to boot. 

Jimmy Gomez we know. Currently in the Legislature, well-spoken, and beyond a doubt the front runner. He’s endorsed by everybody -- Xavier Becerra himself, the California Democratic Party, and SEIU, and so on. 

At the meeting Mr. Gomez spoke very knowledgeably about current California legislation, like the Disclose Act (AB 14), which he co-authored and would require the big bucks donors on ballot measures to cough up their names. He also talked about SB 54 (the “sanctuary state” bill), authored by his friend Kevin de Leon -- which recently passed out the Senate. 

The Takeaway 

Here’s the thing. As with Council District 1, Congressional District 34 is an up-front carve-out designed to be a safe Latino District within our wonderfully partisan federal redistricting process. I’m so used to City Hall slicing and dicing Koreatown into digestible pieces, that I missed the fact that all of Koreatown is in the 34th Congressional District. And I’m sure that I am not alone in that unfortunate assumption. 

Still, it may not all be locked up for the front-runner Jimmy Gomez. After all, he wound up with only 25% of the total vote, about 2% more than Robert Lee Ahn. It’s all about turnout. If the real Bernie progressives show up in force, and there are enough of them on that list of 23 candidates, Robert Lee Ahn could win. As the primary proved, he has the ability to be raise enough funds and votes to be competitive in a runoff election. 

The trick is, Robert Lee Ahn needs to be able to reach out to everyone in the district to let them get to know him and see him in action, including me. Remember, this vote could have national implications in the toxic Washington battles to come. 

So I urge everyone to try and see both Ahn and Gomez before they cast a ballot. Hint, hint, the EAPD Endorsement Meeting will be on May 23, and it would be an excellent opportunity to see both candidates in action. You can find out more about them here.  

As readers of this column know, I love a real, competitive race for office. Witness Council District 1, the only runoff against an incumbent in LA City. Something is happening in Northeast LA, even as we gentrify. In this race the stakes are infinitely higher than for a local election, so we need to pay serious attention. This job could be for life, and we don’t need someone who will simply follow the Nancy Pelosi party line -- she and her pre-anointed candidate are what got Donald Trump elected President. 

And on a personal note, Xavier Becerra was absolutely loyal to Nancy Pelosi for his entire career in the U.S. Congress, and what he got for all that loyalty was to be passed over a lot. Even as Pelosi failed to take the hint that she’s why the Dems lost the House, and ran for re-election as House Minority Leader. 

Becerra’s a good guy (even if he has pre-endorsed in this runoff) and I’ve followed him his entire career. What the D.C. Dems did wasn’t right, and all their actions simply show that they won’t let the next generation step up and take their rightful place in Washington. You know, the ones that might actually be progressive. 

Follow this race closely, engage in the debate, and above all, VOTE if you are in the District!


(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.