California Not Always So Liberal

There are good reasons you might have the impression that my home state of California is a very liberal place. For example, you might not know anyone who was alive before cultural conservatives started trashing Hollywood, aka, Babylon The Great, for destroying the country's morals. For another, it can be observed that San Francisco, the Northern Auxilliary Babylon, if you will, is well within state borders. Also, it's been going Democratic in the presidential election for ages now, the Democratic Speaker of the House is from there, and there are two Democratic Senators.

Important additional things to remember about it though, are that it's also ... the original home of the John Birch Society (which I perversely enjoy reminding people about), gave the nation two quite famous Republican presidents in the latter third of the 20th century, has a little over 1/10th the entire country's population and GDP, and is the country's top agricultural center.

By which I mean to say that it's a large and diverse state with its share of deep conservative roots.

There's also a good bit of immigrant and minority representation; populations of people who know that the GOP (and especially the California GOP) loathes them with a deep and abiding fervor, but are not otherwise more socially liberal than a random sample of the general public, even if they usually vote for Democrats. They're often quite religious. They know they're loathed (by some) because California (see the point above re the John Birch Society) is also home to a fair few White people who are bigoted and xenophobic to the point of frothing lunacy, though they may try to keep it under wraps.

The latter would include the neighbors in my former Silicon Valley burb, where a retired public safety official and crew rallied the gentry to oppose a small charter school for at risk, mostly minority, youth starting up at the church on the next block. (I may have written about this before, but it bears repeating.) They held demonstrations, wrote letters, generally made pains of themselves, until the church relented and decided not to host the students. The kids were, it was said, only going to grow up to be drug dealers and prostitutes anyway. They sent around flyers after asking for donations for a nice gift for a local woman who'd spearheaded the organizing.

That happened in California. Moreover, it happened right around the time reality shows like 'Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire' and 'Who Wants to Marry a Midget' started coming out. Which is to also say that it happened right around the time California had another statewide referendum on gay marriage, and my head nearly exploded from wondering how turning marriage into a game show was okay, but letting the gays do it just took all the sanctity out of the process. As BPK90 wrote in the comments to this excellent diary about why Blacks shouldn't be scapegoated for Prop 8, that vote was 10 points worse than this years' vote, with the anti-marriage vote at around 61%.

So what happened? Why couldn't California have been 12%-13% less homophobic this year than it was eight years ago, instead of only 9-10% less homophobic? I don't know for absolute certain, but here's my take:

First off, all the usual conservative and conservative-leaning constituencies didn't just evaporate like the dew after the state started giving its electoral votes to Democrats. As we all know to our sorrow, the electoral college is no respecter of nuance. Those voters are still there, still send lunatics like Dana Rohrabacher to Congress, and many of the non-Babylonian regions of the state continue to vote as majorities more like the South than like Northeast.

Second, members of the Church of Latter Day Saints, aka Mormons, engaged in a massive political outreach and organizing campaign coordinated with certain Catholic groups and funded by people like the mother of the founder of Blackwater. And what did they tell people? Lies. They lied their buttocks off.

They told people who go to church, who love their church communities, who may find in those churches a respite of fellowship and respect from a cruel and unjust world, that their church's tax exempt status might be revoked if they refused to marry gay couples.

Now it would be nice if people just knew, automatically, where to look to find out if someone is either a lying scumbag or is mistakenly passing on a malicious story that some unscrupulous lying scumbag told them. Unfortunately, plenty of people don't have that kind of time, and there wasn't enough response capacity to counteract the lies.

The truth is, Proposition 8 was going down. And then someone found a lie that stuck and people to fund getting it out.

The respective churches are now complaining about erroneous information leading people to target them for protest. In fact, there are even angry Mormons, who didn't think this was an appropriate use of their place of worship. (Which just goes to show that no group is a monolith.) Now the LDS church is saying that it's their right to participate in the democratic process. Well, no, it isn't.

Churches are explicitly prohibited from engaging in political campaigning if they want to remain tax-exempt, so perhaps that's not something they want to claim they did. Their members and officers, in their personal capacities, are free agents and do have that right. But not a church. That's why they get to avoid both taxes and public scrutiny of their affairs. So when they say this ...

It is disturbing that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is being singled out for speaking up as part of its democratic right in a free election.

... While those who disagree with our position on Proposition 8 have the right to make their feelings known, it is wrong to target the Church and its sacred places of worship for being part of the democratic process.

... I read a public admission that the LDS church has used a tax-exempt status from which it can raise unsupervised, unregulated sums of money from corporations, community organizations, foreign nationals, from anyone at all in any amount, to direct coordinated voter contacts for the purpose of expressing a political opinion that as an organization they are prohibited from sharing.

Shorter version: The LDS church, or any other church, is welcome to have whatever opinion it likes on gay marriage. They are prohibited by law from expressing official opinions about candidates or ballot questions as related to any topic, including gay marriage.

In fact, I'm pretty sure that funding and coordinating phonebanking counts as a strong expression of political opinion.

... The church has been a pre-eminent supporter of the ballot initiative and, at the request of the Yes on Proposition 8 campaign, its members have been phone banking from Utah to push for its passage Nov. 4, The Sacramento Bee reported Saturday.

"However, the church has since determined that such phone calls are best handled by those who are registered California voters," [church spokeswoman Kim] Farah said in the statement issued Friday. ...

Note that whatever you might want to say about the Mormon church, they are not a majority Black institution. They didn't even integrate the priesthood until 1978.

I expect that a lot of people got swayed by propaganda that threatened their churches, put out by a church acting like a political organization. It's hard to make good decisions when you're getting garbage information, it doesn't necessarily equate to innate bigotry.

Lastly, I know people are hurting over this vote. Not just those in the LGBT community, either, but all of us who wish for our loved ones and friends the rights that the rest of us take for granted. I am so sorry. I know there's a fear that if this could lose in California, it's over for a long, long time. Which is exactly why I wanted to make the point that California's liberalism is in process. But though the state might not get a full point less homophobic every year, year after year, I think they'll come around. This will come back and eventually, sooner or later, marriage equality will win. The kids, they're all right.

But until that happens, taking the hurt out on African Americans, some of whom are also members of the LGBT community, is both misguided and a good way to set back progress by still more years.

There's nothing the corporatist aristocrats love more than seeing traditionally oppressed groups go after each other, inflicting further hurt, further separation. It's the divide and conquer attitude that gave us the Southern Strategy, and got some of the nation's poorest Whites voting against programs that would have helped them and their neighbors, all because they were taught by political opportunists to fear and hate Blacks.

How'd that work out for everyone?

Repeal Proposition 8

Update [2008-11-9 15:57:19 by Natasha Chart]: There apparently is a difference in the law between electioneering, or candidate endorsement, and lobbying, or engaging in activism regarding ballot measures. However, California has very particular rules about how public lobbying campaigns above a certain threshold are reported. (via) Someone better prepare those documents very, very carefully, because church spokespeople have publicly admitted to quite a lot of coordinated activity and in-kind donation, and if any of that activity was in conjunction with the Yes on 8 mailers that used Obama's image, they may in fact be guilty of having crossed the line into electioneering.

Tags: California, Gay Marriage, mormon church, Proposition 8, tax exempt status (all tags)



I remember being surprised in 1988

Iowa went for Dukakis, but California was one of the 40 states that went for Poppy.

by desmoinesdem 2008-11-09 07:41AM | 0 recs
Re: I remember being surprised in 1988

Actually prior to 1992 CA was one of the most solidly Republican states in Presidential elections.  In fact, CA went Republican in 9 of 10 elections through 1988.  The only exception was the Johnson landslide of 1964.

Another solidly blue state, IL, went Republican 6 straight times prior to 1992.  It just goes to show why we need to compete in solidly red states (remember how much criticism Obama got for targeting NC this year?) because you never know which state will be the next IL or CA (could be VA).  It also means you have to work on your own states, and not take them for granted, as Gore learned to his dismay in WV in 2000.

by LanceS 2008-11-10 03:49AM | 0 recs
Julia Rosen wrote a good piece

on what went wrong for the No on 8 campaign: ryId=7440

by desmoinesdem 2008-11-09 07:49AM | 0 recs
Re: California Not Always So Liberal

I have to correct you on the tax exempt status issue regarding participation of churches (and other 501 c3 entities ... aka "nonprofits").  While you are correct that these groups cannot endorse or oppose ANY political candidate, nonprofits can participate in ballot measure campaigns.  The reason is that in these cases, the general public is acting as legislators, so for federal tax law purposes, the activity is considered "lobbying," not electioneering.  Nonprofits (including churches) are allowed to lobby within limits.  Thus, while I think it is great that protesters are targeting the Mormon Church, there really is not a legal action to be taken.  You can check out the Alliance for Justice website at for more info.  

by WestCoast WIzard 2008-11-09 07:58AM | 0 recs
Re: California Not Always So Liberal

My thesis was that the coastal areas were underrepresented and that the Inland Empire turned out.  The reason for this would be the East Coast returns (when IN, NC and VA weren't called people figured it was over). So the racial talk is a tad misguided and it was a GOTV problem.  Any data on this?

by AZphilosopher 2008-11-09 08:03AM | 0 recs
Re: California Not Always So Liberal
No. I think the coastal areas had high turnout. It's just the places with all the population in the state voted for it (or 50/50 as LA county did). You can see a good map here: 190000000008.htm
by LakersFan 2008-11-09 01:05PM | 0 recs
Re: California Not Always So Liberal

The Inland Empire did vote for it.  All the coastal regions voted no in SoCal except the O.C.  This is very much the map I would have expected for this result.  

My guess: high inland turnout would be due to the foreclosure crisis, possibly a more narrow result in L.A. county coupled with a high inland turnout.

by AZphilosopher 2008-11-09 01:28PM | 0 recs
Re: California Not Always So Liberal

Oops, read it wrong.  Nevermind.

by AZphilosopher 2008-11-09 01:29PM | 0 recs
Re: California Not Always So Liberal

No problem. But since you're interested in turnout by count, you may be interested in this link: m

(I don't think all the info has been updated as they count, but it's still interesting.)

by LakersFan 2008-11-10 12:39PM | 0 recs
California is mischaracterized by dumbasses

Specifically dumbasses like Bill-O, Hannity and the rest of the overpaid conservative corporate spokesholes.

I grew up in Southern California in a VERY Republican district. I met Elton Gallegly, the current GOP weasel who represents the district, at my front door when he first ran for the job in 1986. In his 21 long years in office, he has proven to be a total dickhead and the perfect representative for the people of his district. Again, I grew up there. I know the people who voted for him. Peas in a pod. Before Gallegly there was Bobbi Fiedler, a rabid anti-busing bigot and, as it turned out, somebody who wasn't above using bribery to retain office.

In the 29 years I lived in California I witnessed overt bigotry (especially against Hispanics), militarism and doctrinaire adherence to Reaganism on a scale I've not seen since leaving there in 1989. That's not to say everyone is that way, but Californians are most certainly not liberal in large numbers.

by Spiffarino 2008-11-09 08:04AM | 0 recs
Re: California Not Always So Liberal

Thanks Natasha, for a well written piece on this. I agree that we shouldn't blame AA voters, Latinos and Asian voters and by doing so, open us up for more wedge issue vulnerabilities.

However, no matter WHY all the factors into Prop 8's (Prop Hate's) passage came together, it hurts a great deal to see the "70% of AA voters voted in favor" numbers.  And the other minority communities voting numbers as well.

Our President-elect might want to put some effort into fashioning a diversity education campaign so that outright lies can't take hold as easily.  We've done diversity in the workplace. Diversity in the community needs to be next.

by sarany 2008-11-09 08:36AM | 0 recs
Re: California Not Always So Liberal

There are questions as to whether the methodology that determined the proportion of the AA no vote was correct.

But either way, there's a lot of work to be done building bridges.

by Natasha Chart 2008-11-09 08:52AM | 0 recs
Re: California Not Always So Liberal

Like regular campaigns, it's all in the definition.  If Prop 8 is framed as denying individual rights, it gets crushed.  Whoever names the tune wins.

by moondancer 2008-11-09 08:49AM | 0 recs
John Birch Society

I remember being surprised to drive by a John Birch Society sign somewhere near Barstow (not to mention the "get the US out of the UN" sign).  People forget that CA is basically like the rest of the country: a coastal high-density liberal part; a southern high-density conservative part (the OC); and a vast, low-density inland hick-land.

by username 2008-11-09 08:56AM | 0 recs
Re: John Birch Society

Yep.  Not all of us are surfers.  ;)

by fogiv 2008-11-09 09:11AM | 0 recs
Re: California Not Always So Liberal

As A Gay man from Florida you in California should be Grateful you have civil unions or Domestic partnerships we had all possibilitys taken from us no civil unions or domestic partnerships or marriage so be thankful you have something!

by tpagy 2008-11-09 09:17AM | 0 recs
Re: California Not Always So Liberal
So the AA christian community are sheep and need to be led by whatever voice is the loudest, in this case, the voice of the Mormons, who have little affection for AAs?
I'm sorry, what's your point?
by ChitownDenny 2008-11-09 09:41AM | 0 recs

Political propaganda has been known to persuade people of all types. People get lied to, they believe things that aren't so all the time.

I made an error or two in writing this post, does that mean I'm a sheep? I hope not. Everybody ends up believing ridiculous stuff, everyone. It's not necessarily bad intent.

When we're talking about the general population of those referred to as low-information voters, people who tune into the political process for a couple months or so every two to four years, they don't get referred to so vehemently. I'm just sick reading some of the things that have come up about this.

by Natasha Chart 2008-11-09 10:43AM | 0 recs
Regardless of the reasons, it is known factually and statistically that Prop 8 passed due to the black votes. I have to say that my view on the black community is at all time low, perhaps it will take years before i view them as intelligent beings again. People who vote against their interest .... i call them stupid voters.... and that's my perception of black people now. Though one might argue it's not all black people, but well look at the numbers. If it's most then that sums it all. There is nothing No to Prop 8 campaign could have done to sway their votes. You can blame their bad campaigning skills but we always do that to a losing campaign when we jolly well know all campaigns need improvement and the losing one will be well scrutinized on hypotheticals.
Regardless,  the first step to heal is for the black leaders especially those with political authority  to come together and apologized and to put this issue their main priority in the coming years. Else, it will just be excuses and nothing more.
For those of you who do not understand why the AA community is taking so much hit, if AA voters voted around 50% no rather than 70% yes and Prop 8 passed, there will be very minimal hit on them unlike now. The thing is that we expect of all people black people to understand discrimination. They might argue that it's not their fault as they are born black. Well, we say it's their choice who they want to date, where they want to take the bus, which drinking fountain to take etc. So it's all excuses and many of us who sympathizes with the black community have lost that benefit of a doubt for them. Till they admit their error and apologize, the healing process will take a very very long time. And as for Prop 8 passing, i don't foresee the Supreme Court taking the case as the justices will be up for reelection and for many other reasons. And to reverse that decision i believe we need 2 ballot initiatives rather than one so it might take a generation before we can have that battle again. I hope many here see what consequences this passage has caused. Or unless Obama himself personally allow gays to marry federally, there is no hope at all for at least one generation to come. President Lyndon Johnson took the hit when he allowed civil rights for the AA community knowingly that the democrats will lose the south. I hope Obama will be willing to make the right decision regardless of political consequences.
by stevent 2008-11-09 10:02AM | 0 recs
Re: Apology

Your comments are racist and small minded.  Apparently your measure of intelligence is how much someone (or an entire race) agrees with your positions and views.  

How was a vote for Propostion 8 a vote against the self interest of Black voters? Did you know an effective tactic of the pro-Prop 8 campaign were robocalls of a clip of Barak Obama stating during a debate his opposition to gay marriage?

Yes, Prop 8 discriminate against gays & lesbians, but don't try to compare marriage to enslavement and the discrimination and marginalization experienced by Blacks to this day.

Blacks and Latinos tend to oppose gay marriage for religious reasons.  Perhaps their faith is a further sign to you of their lack of intelligence.....

by darrenfelipe 2008-11-09 10:38AM | 0 recs
Re: Apology
Yes, and if the married church going white people, and all the rest who voted against it had stayed home, it would have passed. There's no point in singling out a single minority for blame when Prop 8 was passed because of several factors.
I think the loss needs to be blamed on the No on Prop 8 supporters who made a lot of assumptions without facts in evidence.
They assumed that Democrats who turned out for Obama would vote against it, and they assumed that people on the ground didn't need training and they assumed that a tight and efficient volunteer force wasn't needed.
Take responsibility and move on.
by skohayes 2008-11-09 11:48AM | 0 recs
Re: Apology

Well, someone just got themselves banned.

by Natasha Chart 2008-11-09 11:03PM | 0 recs
California is Moderately Progressive

Based on a Nov 1, 2008, SurveyUSA poll, California voter ideologically is:

25% - Liberal
27% - Conservative
43% - Moderate

And, California voter party affiliation is:

15% - Independent
34% - Republican
50% - Demoncratic

Many California Democrats do not classify themselves as liberal.

In California, Blacks and Latinos tend to be more religious than white Democrats; and, they tend to be moderate-to-conservative on many cultural and social issues. Proposition 8 was defeated among white voters but passed because of strong support among Black and Latino voters.  Keep in mind, folks, Proposition 8 was a cultural/social issue and not a D vs R issue.

A Republican Presidential candidate hasn't been competitive in California for 20 years.  The congressional delegation and the state legislature are overwhelming Democratic. California is a deep blue state. But California is only a moderate state on many cultural/social issues.

(PS, the John Birch Society was founded in Indiana, not California, and they ceased to be relevant and influential 30 years ago.)

by darrenfelipe 2008-11-09 10:17AM | 0 recs
Re: California Not Always So Liberal

I lived in SoCal during the Nineties.  There is much to be said about that, about the wonder and the horror that was (and often both at the same time).  I'll skip that and just get to my conclusions.

First, let the people who feel badly hurt by Prop.8 vent.  Just let them.  Arguing with them emotionally or about some sort of 'objective' evidence will do no good and only add to the mutual hurt.  Some sympathy is the only thing that can help.

Second, when acting semicollectively average Californians often (perhaps: usually) get big things wrong the first time.  Be that about Rodney King, OJ, Prop 214, Gray Davis, Enron/the gouging, the Governator, or Prop.8.  There is a collective sloppiness, a lack of a proper and coordinated sense of duty involved going back to Californias Republican days and the deficient political integration of the many groups that form California now.  The second time around, after gross embarrassment, the results tend to be substantially better.  And sometimes it takes a third try.

by killjoy 2008-11-09 12:43PM | 0 recs
Re: California Not Always So Liberal

There are Democrats of any ethnicity who are social-conservatives on this issue.

I find homosexual practices extremely icky. But I am intellectually honest enough to say the only reason I don't find heterosexual practices icky is because I do them and am used to them. And besides, what the hell does whether I find it icky or not have to do with whether these people should be allowed to marry?

Frankly I don't think there should even BE government sanctioned marriage. Civil Unions for all! Marriage as a showy church thing if you want it but carrying no legal status!

by MNPundit 2008-11-09 05:19PM | 0 recs
Re: California Not Always So Liberal

From the anti-gay vote it is evident that the GOP is a minority party in California due to their pandering to not the sun worshipping whites in Long Beach but the white skin worshipping whites in the other three beaches..Huntington, Laguna and Newport. If I were a Democrat (I am an independent who votes mostly Democrat) I would say out loud.."please GOP continue to pander to the white skin worshipping pagans in the three beaches and down in the Southern US! Please continue to follow your white skin worshipping southern strategy!"

by Boilermaker 2008-11-10 02:48AM | 0 recs
Re: California Not Always So Liberal

"Frankly I don't think there should even BE government sanctioned marriage. Civil Unions for all! Marriage as a showy church thing if you want it but carrying no legal status!"

Here! Here!

I'm personally opposed to gay marriage because of my religeos beliefs, but totally support civil unions and all laws protecting gays' civil rights.  I agree that it makes no more sense for the government to be involved in marriage than in confirmation or baptism or any other purely religeous institutiou.  Making civil unions a requirement for getting various rights and removing government recognition for marriage of any kind, making it purely a religeous institution, makes so much sense, and would solve this whole problem effectively.

by LanceS 2008-11-10 04:00AM | 0 recs


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