I grew up in a middle-class middle-sized town in the middle of California called Bakersfield. It was a farming town, it was an oil town, it was a deeply religious town. It’s also a diverse town, with its socioeconomic and racial demographics so closely mirroring America at large that the fast food industry uses it as a test market for new products before rolling them out to other markets. So goes Bakersfield, so goes the country.
Like the rest of the country, around the turn of the millennium, there was a seismic shift towards a particular brand of Evangelicalism that had symbolically tied itself to the Republican party. While Bakersfield has always been a conservative town, the politics shifted from my Grandfather’s traditional GOP values of small government, lower taxes, and personal liberties, to a different brand of conservatism. A colder brand that focused on Evangelical social concerns and would create the Defense of Marriage Act, push to end abortion, try to abolish the welfare system, and harsh criminal justice.
For example, the current Sheriff in Kern County, the county which Bakersfield seats, Danny Youngblood, just this week stated that he believed it “better financially” for his Deputies to kill criminal suspects than to maim them. (Police shootings in Bakersfield are so common, that in 2015, The Guardian dubbed the county “America’s Deadliest Police Force”, marking 1.5 fatal police shootings per 100,000 residents.)
In 2006, an ambitious state assemblyman named Kevin McCarthy won his bid to represent Bakersfield CA 21, taking over for his mentor Bill Thomas, who was retiring. He is now in his sixth term. (In full disclosure, I volunteered for Mr. McCarthy’s state assembly campaign as a teenaged Young Republican, have met the man several times, and at one point actively campaigned for him.)
Kevin McCarthy has proudly been a leader in the efforts to defund Planned Parenthood, repeal the ACA (Obamacare), deregulate Wall Street, has defended the Defense of Marriage Act, actively opposed LGBT equality. He denies climate change, has authored legislation to remove protected status for protected land and was an early supporter of Donald Trump’s Presidential campaign.
It is important to note that in the last 20 or so years, Bakersfield has been redistricted often and has also been represented by icons of the modern GOP like Barry Goldwater Jr, Bill Thomas, and Devin Nunes at one point or another. It has been CA 21, CA 22, and now CA 23. The point is, it’s an extremely conservative place.
But that could be changing.
In 2014, in the newly redistricted CA 23, McCarthy faced his first Democratic challenger, Raul Garcia, who he absolutely whomped, receiving 75% of votes. His next opponent in 2016, Wendy Reed, closed the gap to 69%, but still dramatically lost the General Election.
It gets interesting, though, when you look at the primary races in those two elections. In 2014, during the primaries, Kevin McCarthy won 99.1% of the vote in a write-in election, basically unchallenged. By 2016, that number drops to 55.5%, facing off against two Republican challengers and Ms. Reed. Now in 2018, at the time of writing this article, McCarthy faces off against four Democratic challengers and a stated non-partisan candidate.
Allow me a brief aside . . .
According to The New York Times, in the nearly 100 special elections since President Donald Trump’s administration began, the Democrats have answered the call by flooding the booths with large voter turn out. Sometimes, in the case of Georgia 6th, by as much as 40 points.
In that primary, Jon Ossoff was able to garner 48% of the vote. His next opponent, Karen Handel, raising only roughly 20%, but due to Georgia election law—since Ossoff was unable to reach the 50% needed not to trigger a runoff election—Ossoff ended up losing the general election by around 3 points, his opponent gaining an addition 32% while his numbers stayed roughly the same. The jump in voter turnout did not hold from primary to general election.
I bring this up to illustrate how important the simple act of showing up and raising your hand is.
Back to the issue of California’s 23rd . . .
The wave of special elections since Trump has taken office has created gains for Democratic turn out as large as 27% in some solidly red districts. In some districts, that’s a landslide in favor of the minority party of the House, Senate, and Executive Branch. In California’s 23rd, it’s just enough if trends hold.
This race isn’t just important for the voters of California 23, with the unexpected retirement of Paul Ryan, and the curious appearances at the side of President Trump in most photo ops and media appearances. House Majority Leader McCarthy is now the sort of Dauphin, the heir apparent, for the Speakership.
This means that, without voter turnout, without funding and attention from the DNC, if re-elected, Kevin McCarthy would hold the most powerful position in the House of Representatives, and become third in line to a Presidency who may or may not complete its elected term.
More clearly stated, if Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation finds that Donald Trump’s Make America Great Again campaign was illegally colluding with a hostile foreign power to alter the path of an election, and President Trump was impeached and removed from office, there is a very good chance that Vice President Mike Pence would be unable to hold the office with any legitimacy, and the Speaker of the House could become President of the United States, elected not by the majority of American voters, but by 700,000 residents in California’s 23rd district.
Voter turnout is crucial to avoiding even the possibility of a President McCarthy. In the 2016 general election, while 70% of eligible Californians are registered to vote, only 35% showed up. This leaves an additional 35% of voters to convince that American democracy did not die on November 8th, 2016.
Money is needed to send a signal to the GOP that even in conservative Trump country, we will not back down from this fight.
If trends hold, if money is moved, if the fear of the path of Donald Trump continues to gain ground, we can hold onto the American dream we were promised in the Declaration of Independence: that every citizen is created equal, governed by rule of law, protected by our government, and not persecuted.
The primary election is to take place June 5th, 2018. Residents of CA 23 can register, and find their polling place here: https://registertovote.ca.gov/
This author supports Tatiana Matta for Congress, but that is not to imply endorsement from The Good Men Project, its editors, staff, or ownership.
Contributor’s note: Most polling and election data referenced in this article were sourced at:
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