When California governor Gavin Newsom woke up on Wednesday, September 15, 2021, I hope he fell to his knees and said, “Thank you, God, thank you, Black women.” To be sure, there are many others to thank, from the energized Chicanx/Latinx community to the Democrats who surged to the polls at the last minute. Some of the more prominent who thronged to his side were Black women, including Vice President Kamala Harris, Congresswoman Maxine Waters, California Board of Equalization member Malia Cohen. Others include grassroots women whose names you’ll never know but whose work was invaluable. They had to get out the vote drives. Street fairs. Voter awareness events in parks and playgrounds. They were determined that the recall effort would fail and even more determined when talk show host Larry Elder jumped into the race as the conservative favorite.
Those who worked for Governor Newsom weren’t necessarily his biggest fans, but they appreciated all his work to develop a progressive agenda. They enjoyed his appointment of Dr. Shirley Weber as Secretary of State. They appreciated his support of Vice President Harris and President Biden. Despite his flaws and unforced errors, they appreciated his leadership on covid matters (like the French Laundry debacle). And they turned up and turned out, although with laggardness that put the outcome of the recall in doubt, especially in mid-August when Elder was polling very close to Newsom.
Democrats ought to be ashamed that things got that close. In a state that has twice as many Democrats as Republicans, there should never have been a question about the outcome of the vote. Frankly, there never should have been a recall election. But if Republicans can’t get their way the old-fashioned way (by winning), they’ll try the renegade way by stealing. So we were treated to allegation after allegation of voter fraud before a single ballot had been counted. We heard reports that some partisan poll-watchers were aggressively challenging voter signatures in the name of preventing fraud. Republicans have been able to gain all these advantages because Democrats, in a word, have been sleeping.
President Joe Biden would be the first to assert that Black women made a difference in the 2020 election. Women like LaTasha Brown, Melanie Campbell, Barbara Arnwine, and so many others crisscrossed the country, urging people to get out and vote. Sometimes it wasn’t an easy case to make. President Biden has been in public office long enough to have a record that energizes some and causes others to cringe. Too many Black men (around one in six) believed the hype and voted for Trump. As hard as that is to understand, it is reasonable to note that Black people are not a monolith, and we don’t vote in lockstep. That makes the Republican embrace of arch-conservative Larry Elder (he would have given reparations to slave owners) all the more cynical.
Some Republicans see Elder as the new face of conservatism. Others see him as a Black man who can hoodwink Black people into voting against their interests. One critic described him as “white supremacy in Blackface”. She was kind.
Elder is coyly considering a gubernatorial run against Newsom in 2022. He may have some momentum, having garnered 46 percent of the votes to replace Newsom, but given that Californians soundly rejected the recall effort, will he have the numbers? His 46 percent of the 37 percent who voted in favor of the recall amounts to a paltry 14 percent or just one in seven votes. The California recall process distorts both the voting outcome and Elder’s relative unimportance.
Still, Elder isn’t going anywhere. The popular talk-radio host is likely to use his electoral experience to expand his audience and ratings. And with the help of Fox, he may multiply his base. There is little or nothing that Democrats can do about Larry Elder, but there is plenty that we can do about pushing a Democratic agenda. Democrats, just do your work. Organize, strategize, keep the momentum going. Stop thinking that you have to “play nice” with Republicans because they sure ain’t playing nice with you. If you care about health care, education, clean air and water, economic justice, call it out. And if you care about the political space in which we live, say thank you to the Black women who helped make it happen.