Predictable Cash & Endorsements Fuel the ‘Lifer Pipeline’ for Assembly District 51

EASTSIDER-When Wendy Carrillo ran against Jimmy Gomez to replace Xavier Becerra in 34th Congressional District primary, she ran a distant sixth, with something like 5% of the votes. In the Assembly District 51 primary last week, she came in first with over 22%. Wanna know why?

The Why of It and My Personal Bias 

The why is easy. When you have a Union PAC pumping in over $300,000 into the game, together with their get out the vote election machinery, you too can go from 6th to 1st, can’tcha?

All this proves what I thought initially - Wendy Carrillo, for all the progressive talk, is the Democratic Party Establishment candidate.

At that time of my first article, the only real indication was that she had been hand-picked by the Democratic Women’s Caucus (led by Cindy Garcia, from Bell Gardens), as they decided that the next Assembly member from the 51st must be a woman. How nice of them. 

As it turned out, my gut feeling was right on. Before the ink on the ballots had dried, Jimmy Gomez proudly endorsed Wendy, as she noted in an October 4 email. Shortly after, the California Democratic Chair (and my favorite internal election fixer) Eric Bauman, proudly announced on October 7 that the Statewide Dems have also endorsed Wendy. 

Now, I don’t know Wendy Carrillo personally, but I do know a fix when I see one by our oh-so-not-very-democratic Democratic Party and here’s why it’s important. 

First, a full disclosure. I should probably admit that I look askance at the California Democratic Party. As an old 60s Berkeley type, I will admit to a strong antipathy when it comes to top down democratic politics. That’s how we end up with misuse of power by democratic super majorities, and one-dollar one-vote schemes, gerrymandering, and most importantly, suppression of the next generation of potentially honest, small ‘d’ democrats coming up the pipeline. 

I like people who are independent-minded, from the communities they seek to represent, and not beholden to the money and power of special interest elites that seem to largely control the outcome of most races these days -- you know, the elections in which we are lucky to see a 14% turnout. If we’re even luckier, the elected Democrat may find a way to actually represent their district without steering afoul of the establishment “party line” system. 

That said... 

The Iron Fist of the Democratic Party Establishment 

Here in Northeast LA, I think we have become a designated home for Latino Democratic party candidates being groomed for a lifetime career in politics. At least it feels that way. Names that come to mind are Jose Huizar, Fabian Nunez, John Perez, Jimmy Gomez, and Kevin De Leon, to name a few. Not to mention Antonio Villaraigosa and Gil Cedillo.  

They are all essentially transitory Party creations, lifetime politicians who have no real ties to our local communities. They form part of a “lifer pipeline” going from City offices to State Assembly/Senate, and to Congress. And if you buck the system, the Party -- not your electorate -- punishes you.   

Just ask Anthony Portantino who voted against a bad John Perez budget plan and had his budget slashed and staff threatened with unpaid leave.

Or ask Rudy Salas (D-Bakersfield), who voted against the big gas tax increase, and was stripped of being Chair of a plum Assembly Committee.

And if you give enough money, the Party will stay mum when you do really, really bad things. Before Harvey Weinstein, there was a guy named Ed Buck. You can read the sad story in Jasmyne Cannick’s CityWatch article.

And, of course, the establishment endorsements and PAC money and high-paid political consulting machines all support the proposition that, in the end, the “big bucks” people win. Recently, Tom Louie did a CityWatch article which seemingly supports this.

And Then There’s Luis Lopez 

Now, I have no idea what Luis Lopez ever did to alienate the Democratic Party establishment, but evidently, he did. While I don’t know him that well, I do remember the 2012 race for Assembly District 51. In that case, the Democratic Party and the powerful Nurses Union found a home here to launch the lifetime political career of one Jimmy Gomez.

For me, that created sympathy with Luis, who came from here and was doing decent things for the community. It strengthened my unease at Northeast LA simply becoming a steppingstone for the Party elite. 

As I wrote in my original article, I really like the Democrats that are endorsing Luis Lopez. Jackie Goldberg has been an outspoken change agent for as long as I can remember; Anthony Portantino is a very accessible and independent representative who has personally felt the nasty stuff the Party can do if you don’t kiss the ring; and Betty Yee is a real grassroots progressive who waged a great comeback campaign to take out that bully John Perez and his bag of dirty tricks. All this means something. 

The Takeaway 

If we don’t do anything different, the outcome of this runoff will likely be predictable -- the establishment Democratic candidate will win -- backed by relatively big bucks and the machinery they represent. 

On the other hand, the numbers from the primary election show some interesting possibilities. First, out of 221,000 registered voters, the total primary vote count was about 23,000 votes, split about half and half between vote by mail and at the polls. That’s about 10% who actually voted at all. 

If you use the semi-official numbers, Carrillo’s 22% vote translated into a mere 4800 actual votes, with Lopez’ second place 19% was 4100 and change. That means that only about 700 votes separated the two candidates. 

Do the math. In an election runoff with the primary generating this pitiful percentage of anyone who cared enough to vote, and no indication that the runoff is going to generate any huge increase in turnout, it simply will not take that many voters to change the outcome of the election. 

Sad but true, and proof that we are so cynical as voters that few bother to even go out and vote.  When you figure that Lopez was outspent about 3 to 1 in the primary and still came within 700 votes of first, I think he has a good chance in the runoff. 

We also had a wonderfully diverse, interesting, and articulate set of 13 candidates in the primary, and it will be fascinating to see how they break on the idea of throwing their support for a runoff candidate. This is not a group that bends to kiss the ring of the establishment, and it will be fascinating to see how it all plays out. 

It is also clear that the demographics of AD51 are becoming gentrified and more diverse. Over time, that’s going to make a huge difference in these races, and can seriously impact the traditional modeling that the professional consultants use to get out some votes and suppress others. 

Personally, I’d like Bauman and the gang to take one in the chin. And if enough of us get up, talk to friends and get enough people to go and vote that didn’t do so in the primary, it could happen. Might be cool.


(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.



Tags: Tony Butka, Eastsider, AD 51, Jimmy Gomez, Luis Lopez, CA Democratic Party Establishment, money in politics, Wendy Carillo, machine politics, progressive democrats