The collapse of the last frontier—and how to save it.
¿Qué Onda, Gavin?
Governor Newsom’s career may depend on a taken-for-granted constituency.
“Diversity”—or more properly, ethnopolitics—has long been championed by the Democratic party. So why are California’s 15.6 million Latinos suddenly making liberals nervous? Recent polls suggest that over 54 percent of Latinos support the recall of Governor Gavin Newsom. Highly paid political consultants across the nation are scrambling to come up with an explanation. Why would La Raza suddenly turn on Newsom and the Democratic Party, which has claimed the Latino vote for decades?
When you stop looking at California politics strictly in terms of ethnic allegiances, and consider economics, growth, and opportunity, the answer is obvious: Latinos embody traditional middle-class values of work and success. In short, they still believe in and cherish the California Dream.
With their near-total control of California politics, Democrats have enacted high tax and anti-upward mobility policies. The state’s leadership has attacked middle class virtues such as home ownership, free enterprise, educational advancement, savings, and safety. California’s historically white middle class is in flight to other states, creating a void which Latinos now fill. As the newest inductees into the American middle class, Latinos remember our roots and remember that we have the most to lose.
What’s at Stake
Liberal policies like “Defund the Police” disproportionately hurt black and Latino communities. The surge in homicides in Los Angeles since the George Floyd riots has almost entirely affected Latino and black victims, according to a recent Los Angeles Times analysis of Los Angeles Police Department data. Latinos account for 49 percent of the city’s population, and 50 percent of homicide victims during the most recent 18-month period. Black people account for just 9 percent of the city’s population, but 36 percent of the victims. Non-Latino white people account for about 29 percent of LA’s population, but less than 8 percent of the victims.
The Democratic ruling class opposes school choice while many of them, including Newsom, enroll their children in private schools. Access to quality education is foundational to achieving the American Dream, yet California children are educationally redlined into their “local” zip-code-determined schools even when state officials know that these schools are failing, a form of institutionalized racism. Latinos broadly support educational choice, either in the form of vouchers, charters, or all-district admission policies.
Public schools are dominated by the California Teachers Association and its affiliates, and their overflowing coffers make the unions the most potent political force in California politics. Despite eating almost half the annual state budget, California’s schools fail their students miserably compared to other states, with test scores near the bottom.
Buying a house for one’s family is a key step on the ladder of prosperity; another step up for immigrants or first-generation Americans is ownership of rental property. But California’s elected ruling class loathes scorns property rights and scorns the aspirational working and middle class. Anti-eviction laws during the pandemic disproportionately hurt smallholder landlords, including many Latinos. A recent Urban Institute study showed that small landlords earn the majority of their income from their rental properties, but black and Latino landlords have lower incomes, own fewer properties, and are more likely to have a mortgage than own their building outright. The state’s anti-eviction laws put minority landlords at risk of bankruptcy, erasing years of hard work and savings.
Latino business owners have been hit disproportionately hard by state-mandated shutdowns. These business tend to be undercapitalized, with little cash on hand, making them more vulnerable to economic strain. Latinos have had their applications for Payroll Protection Program loans approved at half the rate of white business owners. The state has systematically undermined key blue-collar industries like energy, construction, and manufacturing—major employers of Latino workers—which have stagnated or shrunk, while environmental-related hyperregulation has boosted home prices to the nation’s highest.
California Democrats have waged war on the working and middle classes in favor of a feudal vision of society which is run by a tiny billionaire elite and its professional attendants, while tens of millions of others make do on handouts. Our elected class has spent their entire lives on the government payroll. To label their policies as “woke” or “progressive” falls to describe their true ideology, which is virtually colonialist in its sense of mission and noblesse oblige.
The economic burden of these ideals is borne predominantly by middle class families who cannot afford to live on the more elite westside and coastal communities. Most middle class people in southern California live inland, away from the coast, where home prices are cheaper. People living at the beach, where it rarely exceeds 80 degrees, rarely need to use air conditioning. Inland, where summer temperatures routinely hit 110, A/C is essential. A family in Santa Monica pays less in electric bills than a family in Pomona, making it more expensive to be poor in Newsom’s California.
The Democratic Party has historically taken Latinos for granted. Nowhere is this colonialist attitude more evident than in Los Angeles County, where city supervisors are trying to remove an elected Latino official for his defiance to their demands, specifically regarding his efforts to clean up homeless encampments and restore some semblance of order to the streets. Alejandro Villanueva was elected Sheriff of L.A. County in 2018, with strong support from Latino voters. A veteran of the Air Force and California National Guard, Villanueva was the first Democrat to hold the post in 138 years, and the first candidate to unseat an incumbent sheriff in 100 years. His insistence that the homeless don’t have the right to erect tent cities all over the county has infuriated the progressive elite, which have responded with a campaign to destroy him politically. Latino Angelenos have, correctly, interpreted hostility against Villanueva as a proxy battle against their own values.
Although tradition, faith, and religious beliefs are now mocked in woke culture, Latino families are religious. Even someone like me, a third-generation Mexican-American and non-practicing Catholic, attended Catholic School for six years because my parents realized our neighborhood public schools were failing. Catholic school saved my life and catalyzed my future academic and professional success. My abuelita was deeply religious and I would go to church with her because it made her happy. When you mock religious beliefs, you ultimately attack our family members whom we cherish and love dearly. Culturally speaking, it is our moral conviction and faith in humanity that tells us what to do, not the government.
Gavin Newsom is making a strong appeal to the Latino vote as he seeks to save his career, but recent polls show significant apprehension, with 44 percent of the Latino electorate undecided about a potential successor. California Democrats have grown accustomed to taking Latinos for granted, but this could be the year that changes that familiar formula.
The American Mind presents a range of perspectives. Views are writers’ own and do not necessarily represent those of The Claremont Institute.