Published Articles by Doris Weatherford

In the Long Run…

October 30, 2017

I noticed a pundit recently refer to California as “a very blue state” – and that is true, as Democrats hold virtually all of its top offices. In 1992, California became the first state to elect women to both of its US Senate seats, and Diane Feinstein and Barbara Boxer are Democrats. Boxer retired at the last election and was replaced by Kamala Harris, a Democratic woman and an African American. When I published Women in American Politics in 2012, all of the congressional districts around Los Angeles and San Francisco were represented by Democrats, most of them women.


Now it appears that the traditionally Republican stronghold around San Diego (with its huge Navy base) is turning blue. Its voters went for Hillary over Trump last year, and the incumbent -- a guy Daily Kos described as “Vladimir Putin’s favorite congressman” -- is attracting relatively little money. Daily Kos added that of course it didn’t help that his campaign treasurer pleaded guilty to embezzling $300,000 of the donated funds. Great financial oversight, that.


But my point is larger. I remember when California was a red state, very much Republican. My youthful image of it in the 1960s was as the scary home of the John Birch Society, the era’s most extreme conservatives. Richard Nixon, who was elected president in 1968, was an ardent Republican whose base was California – and the uncritical support of the Los Angeles Times made his career. Together, they destroyed Congresswoman Helen Gahagan Douglas when she and Nixon competed for the US Senate in 1950. Attacks on her were so vicious that Democratic women long were intimidated from running.


Soon after the Nixon era, the dominant figure in California politics became the avuncular Ronald Reagan. He was nicer than today’s Donald Trump, but similar in seemingly early-onset senility. Republican leaders back then didn’t have to worry about Twitter multiplying off-the-wall comments, but Reagan did occupy the same fact-free realm as Trump does. I just googled something that I thought I remembered -- and yes, Reagan did say in 1981 “trees cause more pollution than automobiles.”


Just as Trump has support from climate-change deniers, Reagan had supporters who argued that smog wasn’t real – and if it was, it was not influenced by human activity. Hubby’s aunt who lived in LA was one them. A well-intended but thoroughly unscientific woman, she vehemently denied any link between the city’s infamous dirty air and its infamous traffic. But eventually pollution controls on cars made a measurable difference, proving the prescience of scientists. And yes, there is a connection between those words, and there should be.


So the bottom line is that things change, and political patterns change, too. Western states such as Wyoming, Idaho, and even Utah once were quite liberal, but have become conservative. The reverse is true for New England: Maine, Vermont, and New Hampshire were reliably Republican until fairly recently, but have swung Democratic – and even the Republicans they do elect, such US Senator Susan Collins of Maine, are as liberal as many Democrats.


The major parties also changed, especially after the 1960s, when Democrats began strongly championing civil rights. The “Dixiecrats” in the old Democratic Party became Republicans – and changing those party loyalties was the clear aim of Richard Nixon’s 1968 “Southern Strategy.” The Republican trend to greater conservatism continued in 1980, when they nominated Reagan at the same convention in which their platform dropped its previous support for the Equal Rights Amendment. California voters noticed these changes, changed their electoral behavior, and the once-red state now is sky blue.


California Dreamin’


So I’m going way out on a limb here, but I’m old enough and poorly paid enough that I’m free to go out on the edge. I’ve got nothing to lose. My crystal ball tells me that Florida’s political pattern soon will follow the California trend. Let’s start with population.


When Hubby and I moved here in 1972, Florida had 6.8 million residents; now it has 20.6. California ranked number one in population, both then and now, while in 1970, Florida was 9th. Now were are 3rd, having recently passed New York, which was second in 1970, to become third most populous state, behind only California and Texas. Both are appreciably larger geographically than we: Texas comes in second in square miles, following only Alaska, while California is third. We, on the other hand, rank 22nd in geographical size. So we are 3rd in population and 22nd in land area. You may have noticed some crowding on our highways and byways.


For the political implications, let’s take a big leap backwards to 1789, when the US Constitution was ratified. Its writers had the prescience (again, a good word!) to look ahead and realize that America’s population would be on the move, and to be truly representative, the House of Representatives periodically would have to redistribute its seats. That’s why we have the census: we count ourselves every ten years, and some states gain House seats, while others lose them. (And when conservatives grumble at the next census, remind them that the Constitution mandates this, and we’ve had them since 1790.)


The nation’s founders studied law and history, and they understood the need for censuses because of Britain’s example. Districts in the House of Commons didn’t change, and there were men in Parliament who represented places that no longer existed. Called “rotten boroughs,” these were areas with many more sheep than people; some men “represented” land that literally had fallen into the sea. London, Liverpool, Manchester and more had grown into industrialized cities meanwhile, and their people had little representation.


So the US Constitution provided for a census, and we have one every year that ends in zero. That means another in 2020, which is just two years away. The League of Women Voters is joining other prescient organizations in thinking ahead about distributing the new legislative districts fairly. Florida will gain more seats, and they should go to the urban areas that are growing, not to the cow-pasture country. And we shouldn’t break up communities: Hillsborough County should be together, not part of us exiled to Pasco or Polk or Manatee counties, as is the case now.


Unfair map drawing of elective districts is called gerrymandering, and it’s another topic -- but you should remember that there was a time not so long ago that a hugely disproportionate number of legislative seats went to North Florida while Miami, Palm Beach, and other much more populous places got zilch. I’m going to save gerrymandering in our state legislature for another column, however, and return to the analogy between California and us on the national scene. I think the times may be changing, perhaps sooner than we think. It might even begin at the very next election.


What’s Ahead for 2018 (Just Months Away)


The main reason for this prediction is Donald Trump. Every member of the US House of Representatives, you know, is up for re-election every two years, and Florida’s Republican congressmen will have to decide whether or not they want to defend his indefensible presidency. This part isn’t hard to predict: They will run to the right to please gullible Trump supporters at the primary stage, and in the general election against Democrats, they will try to portray themselves as moderates. But the first trick for them is to win their primaries against puppets funded by Trump and his billionaire buddies.


And when I wrote “congressmen,” I meant it. The sole Republican woman in Florida’s congressional delegation, Miami’s Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, is retiring, and no other woman appears to have a chance of winning a Republican nomination. Here’s the deal right now: Florida currently has 27 members in its House delegation, 16 Republicans and 11 Democrats. When Ros-Lehtinen retires next year, all of the Republicans will be white men, and that lack of diversity gives me a reason not to bother to list them. Going from north to south, the Democrats are:


1. Al Lawson, Tallahassee

2. Stephanie Murphy, Orlando

3. Darren Soto, Orlando

4. Val Demings, Orlando

5. Charlie Crist, St. Petersburg

6. Kathy Castor, Tampa

7. Lois Frankel, Palm Beach

8. Alcee Hasting, Palm Beach/Broward

9. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Broward/Miami

10. Frederica Wilson, Miami

11. Joe Garcia, Miami


So six of the eleven Democrats running for reelection are women, while Republicans have none. Only first-termer Stephanie Murphy appears to be in any danger of losing her seat, but given the military background that led her to victory last year, the Republicans may find it easier to target someone else. Moreover, the National Democratic Party has done an excellent job of lining up new female candidates.


Nancy Soderberg, an experienced diplomat, is running in Volusia County against a Republican incumbent who may leave the seat to run for something else. Lauren Baer, a senior official with the Obama administration, has filed against an incumbent who barely won last time in this Palm Beach district. Mary Barzee Flores, an attorney with family roots in Miami, aims to replace Ileana Ros-Lehtinen in a district that is increasingly Democratic. Finally, Debbie Mucarsel Powell is taking on a southwestern district that I thought was solidly Republican until I looked it up -- and discovered that it voted 57-41 for Hillary.


So hope is springing, even sooner that I thought. If Florida Republicans don’t quickly recover from the sexism so frequently displayed by Trump and his buddies, they may be in danger of losing their congressional majority. Yet they seem to be clueless, as the frat boys in Tallahassee recently pulled out all their big-money stops to defeat Yvonne Fry in the Republican primary for a vacancy in Plant City. She is a faithful party member and a longtime community leader, while he was virtually unknown at the local level. They win these elections for puppets with money that buys advertising to sway newcomers and the uninformed. So please google the candidates above and send them a donation, OK? It will make a difference.


doris@dweatherford.com




Doris Weatherford writes a weekly column for La Gaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper. With pages in Spanish, Italian, and English, it has been published in Tampa since 1922.

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