Mitchell’s Musings 4-30-2018: Oil in Troubled Waters Can Dampen Blue Waves

05 May 2018 11:23 AM | Daniel Mitchell (Administrator)

Mitchell’s Musings 4-30-2018: Oil in Troubled Waters Can Dampen Blue Waves

Daniel J.B. Mitchell

Sometimes, a bunch of seemingly-unrelated things come together. Consider these events. There is the me-too movement linked to sexual harassment. There is California as a very blue state that is particularly sensitive to the sexual harassment issue and to ethnic minority concerns. It is also sensitive to environmental issues. There is the long-term decline of “good” blue-collar jobs. There is the decline of unions long term, especially in the private sector. There is the link between unions and the Democratic Party in California. And there is the fact that direct extraction of oil and gas in California involves something over 5,000 employees. Refining of petroleum involves another 13,000+ employees.

Some observers have forecast, based on national demographic trends, that U.S. politics will – in the long run – grow to look like California’s. The proportion of the population with immigrant roots will increase, white males (stereotyped as Trump/Republican voters) will die off, liberal millennials will come to dominate, etc. The nation will turn blue and Republicans will be marginalized, as they have been in California. Demography is political destiny in this scenario. But there is a problem.

First, it is true that California demographics (minority-majority or maybe majority-minority) will eventually be followed by the rest of the U.S. However, voting patterns are not simply demographically determined. Estimates for California are that at present, about 6 out of 10 “likely voters” are white, non-Hispanics. So roughly 3 in 10 are white male, non-Hispanics in the state.[1] Let’s just call it 30%. Census estimates for the proportion of folks who were white, non-Hispanic nationally and who voted in 2016 was a little over 73%. Thus, the male piece of that total was maybe 36-37%. You can’t explain the difference between California – where Republicans in statewide elected office have zero presence – and the rest of the U.S. by that 6-7% difference among white, non-Hispanic males.

Second, the long-run demographic tale assumes that voting patterns by demographic group will remain stable over decades. But many of the white male Trump voters are the descendants of immigrants who came in the last big immigration wave in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. There is the old saying, “the last one in says shut the door; we’re all here.” Who is to say what Hispanic and Asian-origin populations will have as their political leanings in 2050?

Third, even if you lean towards some version of demographics-is-political-destiny, you need to show a path between now and that future. And just as there are contradictory elements in the Republican electorate, e.g., libertarians versus social conservatives, there are analogous conflicts among Democrats. So let’s look at some of the seemingly-unrelated events described earlier as an illustration of the latter.

As noted, “blue” California embraces such social trends as the me-too movement. One member of the California legislature who was initially seen as a big supporter of me-too was Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia. She was also a big supporter of other “progressive” causes, notably environmental. However, accusations began to surface that she had engaged in sexual harassment and related behavior, ultimately forcing her to take a leave of absence from the legislature. Garcia is nonetheless currently running for re-election. But as she campaigned, a full-page ad ran in the LA Times which we reproduce below.


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You’ll note that the ad does not mention Garcia. Still, at about the same time as it appeared, new accusations surfaced; this time it was said that Garcia had made homophobic slurs and anti-Asian remarks. Finally, this report appeared in the Los Angeles Times:

The decision by a politically powerful labor group to openly campaign against an embattled Los Angeles-area lawmaker drew a sharp rebuke on Friday from Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon. The Lakewood Democrat lashed out hours after the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California filed paperwork for a political action committee to defeat Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia (D-Bell Gardens). Garcia, who’s seeking her fourth term, took an unpaid leave of absence in February following allegations of sexual misconduct. She has denied the reports and an Assembly investigation remains underway.

Rendon didn’t criticize the labor group by name, insisting instead that the decision was driven by oil and gas industry interests. "This is a thinly veiled attempt by Big Oil and polluters to intimidate me and my members. It is an affront to my speakership,” Rendon said in a statement. “We are proud of the work that the Assembly has done to increase jobs and wages while defending our environment. We will vigorously defend the members of our caucus from any ill-advised political attack."

A statement from the labor group, which sparred with Garcia last year on her effort to link new climate change policies with a crackdown on air pollution, said it had decided to “reverse” past support for her. “The Trades have thousands of hard working members in Garcia’s district, and we look forward to lifting up another Democrat in the 58th Assembly to better represent them and their families,” said the statement…[2]

Even if Assemblywoman Garcia is replaced, another Democrat will be elected in her place - so there will be no changes in the balance of the two parties in the California legislature. You can decide for yourself whether the steady surfacing of the various accusations against Garcia and the campaign by labor groups to replace her is just a coincidence. We have noted in past musings that in the current social climate, me-too accusations can be weaponized for political purposes.

In any event, the Garcia brouhaha illustrates the tension that exists between organized labor – a significant funding source for Democrats – and the wing of the party that is particularly concerned about quality-of-life type issues as opposed to “bread-and-butter” job-related issues. Democrats are poised to lose support from public-sector unions due to a pending U.S. Supreme Court case. Defections of private-sector unions, such as those behind the LA Times ad, would be a further blow to Democrats, especially in potential swing states and districts.

Consider, too, the gerrymandering in many states by GOP-dominated legislatures, the planned inclusion in the 2020 Census of a question on citizenship that may reduce response rates in states such as California with large immigrant populations, and various voter suppression efforts. Given those considerations, the blue path running from now to the future based on purely demographic factors must be seen to be strewn with pitfalls. And, in the near term, the 2018 election appears likely to be fought out against a background of very low unemployment. Yes, the labor-force participation rate is several percentage points below where it was at the turn of the century, but its downward trend ended several years ago. Labor-market conditions have to be seen overall as pretty good. Counting on an inevitable blue wave election in 2018, or on a gradually rising demographic blue tide, would be a risky strategy for Democrats.



[1] Males and females don’t differ much in propensity to vote.


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