Election 2018: Who Won Here, and Why?

Becky O'Malley
Saturday November 17, 2018 - 04:20:00 PM

Yes, the midterm elections are ALMOST in the bag, so it’s time for the punditocracy to sharpen its teeth for the feast.

Almost the day after the election, I was amused to see that some of the nationally-oriented blogs posted by my fellow lefties were eager, as always, to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

Their handwringing started with “Not enough Dems were elected to make a difference.” As more and more districts came into the Blue fold this week, that lament seems to be dying.

So they went on to “ Anyway, Democrats in Congress won’t accelerate the Second Coming by more than a half decade.” Okay, I made that one up, but you get the drift.

Here’s a real example: Friday’s NY Times had the predictable letter from a Green Party functionary:

“Voting for the less terrible to prevent the more terrible when you really wanted to vote for someone else is like taking the slow route on the highway to hell. It will take longer, but you will end up at the same place either way.”

No. Poor analogy. The slower you go on the pathway to oblivion, the more time you have to find a better way to proceed.  

That’s what the House of Representatives should be doing for the next two years, trying to construct a viable alternative to ask voters to endorse in 2020. Whatever legislation they might be able to pass will likely be rejected by the Senate and/or vetoed by the president, but it can serve as a Blueprint for a better future. 

Meanwhile, Green Party loyalists may continue to enjoy the Jill Stein presidency to their hearts’ content. 

Which, of course, brings up the question of what happened in California Assembly District 15, where progressive candidate Jovanka Beckles was excoriated in the commentariat of what now passes for local media because she admitted casting a protest vote for Dr. Jill in the 2016 election. Conveniently omitted in the published diatribes was the general understanding that Hillary Clinton was sure to capture California’s electoral votes in November of 2016, making protest votes risk-free. 

Here I feel compelled to protest myself that I voted for Hillary both in the primary and in the general election. Bernie Sanders looked to me like just another old White guy, very similar in type (and age) to many of my dearest friends. He was offering, it’s true, good proposals on a variety of fronts, but in the end he seemed just as marginal in 2016 as he’d been for his long congressional history. It’s great to know the tune, but you should also know the words if you want to sing along. 

Local media-lite reports were determined to portray the Beckles-Wicks race as a shootout between the Berniecrats and the Dem-O’crats, but it wasn’t that. For one thing, Bernie was mighty dilatory in endorsing Jovanka. He came, he rallied with Barbara Lee, he sat on the same stage with Jovanka, but he didn’t endorse her or even provide a photo-op until the day after. What was that about? 

Wicks, on the other hand, was the queen of photo-ops with all the establishment biggies. The mailers from her campaign, which were coming to my house in the end at what seemed like the rate of 4/day, were mostly celebrity selfies with the occasional shot of her baby. The analysis of this particular race boils down to one thing: Money Talked, as it all too often does. In addition to the cheery selfie pieces, the dark money Independent Expenditure crowd supplied an extravagant number of ugly hit pieces aimed at Beckles. A couple of these tiptoed right up to the edge of Willie-Horton-style racism, spotted for what they were by several of the Planet’s readers. Wicks could have denounced these scurrilous items (as Beckles did with one unwelcome corporate-financed endorsement of her campaign) but she chose not to. 

Her selfie endorsers were the usual suspects in the Democratic party establishment: Obama, Clintons, Harris, etc. etc.. Presumably they’d met her as a bright young factotum in their own campaigns in the past. However, there was no shot of Buffy with Rahm Emmanuel, whose campaign for Chicago mayor she’d worked on. 

But the barnacles on Buffy’s love boat were endorsers from two specific undercurrents inside the Democratic party: education entrepreneurs and developers. One example of how these streams converge: Eli Broad, a mega-developer who now gives big bucks to PACs which promote charter schools. For details, see https://buffywicks.money/#govern-for-california-pac. Some of Buffy’s IE support was funneled through East Bay for Everyone, the local incarnation of the YIMBYs, an astro-turf front group for market-rate developers. 

(Here let us pause for a moment to acknowledge that San Francisco voters may be more progressive than we are in the East Bay: YIMBY founder and developer puppet Sonja Trauss ran dead last in a field of four candidates for a supervisor seat in the Mission.) 

Loosely, a Democratic faction with members all the way from Berkeley’s re-elected District 8 incumbent, through Wicks, and up to New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio espouses the theory that the best way to provide affordable housing for everyone is to build plenty for the well-off and pray for trickle-down. Academics who like to play with names might call this belief supply-side, neo-liberal, market fundamentalism—but whatever you call it, the underlying assumption is that the market will take care of consumer needs if you just let it function unimpeded by regulation.  

It’s the theory of choice for those of you who never made it past Econ. 101. Some half-baked version of this kind of thinking was probably behind Buffy’s stubborn refusal to endorse repeal of the Costa-Hawkins ban on rent control for new buildings. Bill DeBlasio’s recently announced deal to turn over a major part of Queens to Amazon, along with a $3 billion subsidy, is a major example of how Democrats can go wrong on development issues. See, for the gory details: Can New York City’s Mayor Be an Amazon Booster and Still Be Progressive? 

Berkeley Wicks voters are in for some surprises if she “ dances with them as brung her” in the state legislature. I’d bet a tidy sum that most don’t realize that her endorsers, e.g.state Senators Scott Wiener and Nancy Skinner, are part of an aggressive faction which is trying to strip local governments of the power to plan what’s built where in already-dense cities like ours. People who want to see more housing for residents who can’t pay what the market demands might be shocked to learn that for-profit developers are busy covering the limited number of building sites in Berkeley with pricey super-dorms for young commuters to San Francisco’s tech boom. Buffy Wicks and her friends in Sacramento seem poised to grease their way. Let’s hope she proves me wrong. 

Building industry funding also played a major part in Berkeley City Council campaign. More about that later.