The biggest winner in the 2020 election was small "d" democracy itself, as Americans shattered all records for casting ballots, turnout numbers in Santa Barbara County and other local communities across the nation exceedimg 90 percent.
It was an excellent demonstration of citizenship despite the pandemic, which initially was expected to constrain voting but ended up expanding the electorate by clearing the way for widespread new vote-by-mail systems in state after state.
Newsmakers applauds and congratulates all frontline volunteer and government election workers, as well as all every steadfast citizen in Santa Barbara who stepped up to become a candidate for office. Campaigning can be thankless, and putting oneself out there, vulnerable and at the mercy of grumpy voters, know-it-all critics, know-nothing nudniks and snarky bloggers, among other vexations and annoyances, can be scary, unhappy and odious.
So thank you Brian, Elrawd, Jackie, Laura, Monie, Virginia, Wendy and all others in the county who had the energy, perseverance and courage to run to represent your neighbors.
Winners and Losers
Sure Donald Trump became the first president in three decades to fail at re-election, but the powerful and malign brew of toxic political forces he uncorked during his brief reign won't be easy to put back into the bottle. The Orange Man empowered, enabled and coddled white supremacists, evangelical jihadists, gun-toting nativists and wing nut conspiracists, while making racism, misogyny, xenophobia and personal viciousness fashionable among half the country, and it's hard to picture all of them heeding Joe Biden's call for civility and common ground.
Loser: Donald Trump.
No president in history was more professionally ill-prepared, temperamentally ill-suited or psychologically less equipped to undertake and wield the awesome responsibilities and authority of the office. Four years of ramming his sociopathic narcissism, personal financial corruption and emotional abusiveness down the throats of the majority of Americans who saw him from the start for the conman he is finally earned karmic retribution in the form of humiliating defeat by the same score he won by four years ago.
Winner: Kevin McCarthy
Despite his repulsive performance as one of Trump's top Washington towel boys, the House Minority Leader and Bakersfield favorite son emerged from the election politically stronger and more emboldened. Far from losing the dozen or so congressional seats that Beltway wizards forecast, Republicans look to gain about as many, positioning Kevin to win the Speaker's gavel in 2023 if the President's party follows the historical script of losing seats in the mid-terms.
Loser: Nancy Pelosi.
The San Francisco Democrat is a pioneering historic figure and perhaps the best American politician of hers, or any generation, but under her leadership, the party just squandered a singular opportunity to build a huge House majority. She's already declared her intention to stand for Speaker again, but with moderates and progressives inside her caucus tearing each other's faces off with recriminations, Nancy should think about going out on top.
Winner: Looming gridlock.
The last time a Democrat moved into the White House saddled with cleaning up a Republican president's huge mess, Joe Biden was Barack Obama's wingman and the pair struggled to right the economy, save the auto industry, kill Osama Bin Laden and, oh yeah, pass a universal health care plan - all in the teeth of single-minded Republican intransigence and obstructionism that cared nothing about policy and everything about power. Now Biden faces the sequel to that agonizing political adventure, with the iniquitous Mitch McConnell still ensconced as Senate Majority Leader from whence he gleefully thwarted and impeded so much of Obama's agenda.
Bronx congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is the face of the uncompromising lefty wing of the Democratic Party, as Senator Bernie Sanders positions himself for a Biden Cabinet post, but her prospects dimmed with the election, both on politics and policy. Biden wasn't all that keen on her push for the Green New Deal and defund-the-police criminal justice reforms even before Democrats failed miserably to expand their congressional strength, and now she and her socialist and Justice Democrat allies are being blamed by moderates for the loss of multiple seats.
Winner: Kamala Harris
The Vice President-elect and Governor Newsom were fiercely ambitious friendly rivals back in the 90's and oughts in San Francisco politics and, when former Senator Barbara Boxer set off a generational shift with her retirement in 2010, Prince Gavin and Queen Kamala divided up the world of state politics. He chose first, opting for the governorship and Sacramento, while she settled for a U.S. Senate seat, but now she's a heartbeat from the presidency, his White House hopes on ice.
Loser: Gavin Newsom.
Harris already is the subject of a soon-to-be-released, no doubt first-of-many, biography (shout-out Dan Morain!), while Newsom is just the latest in a long line of California political high flyers who blink and find themselves mired in River City, making like Job -- confronted by plague, recession, power outages, drought and wildfire, keeping one eye peeled on the sky, alert for the arrival of locusts.
Winner: Venture capitalists.
When he birthed California's famous initiative and referendum system in 1911, Governor Hiram Johnson saw it as an antidote to the big money and unbridled corporate power of California's railroad barons. A century later, the Lords of Silicon Valley poured big money into the most expensive initiative campaign in history and prevailed, as Uber, Lyft and Door Dash spent some $250 million on the winning campaign for Prop. 22. It circumvents the state Supreme Court and the Legislature and allows the tech disruptors to write their own law governing how they treat their (please don't call 'em employees) independent contractors.
Loser: Politically wired unions.
After California's Supreme Court issued a ruling that called for businesses to treat most workers as full time employees, ponying up for health care and other benefits like unemployment and worker's comp insurance, the labor unions that largely control Democratic lawmakers in Sacramento saw an opportunity to grow their memberships by organizing so-called gig workers affected by the ruling. After the Dems passed a ham-fisted over-reach known as Assembly Bill 5, however, the ridesharing giants got together to perform political ju-jitsu with industry-friendly Prop.. 22, which they now plan to implement as a model in states across the nation.
California voters overwhelmingly approved Proposition 17 last Tuesday, which changes state law to allow ex-felons on parole to vote. It was yet another victory for criminal justice reformers -- whose biggest triumph of the day was the defeat of L.A. County District Attorney Jackie Lacey at the hands of alleged progressive George Gascon -- as well as for Democrats who have been working to enlarge the state electorate in every way possible.
Loser: 17-year olds.
While voters awarded the franchise to parolees, they denied it to 17-year olds, who would have been allowed to cast ballots in primaries if they would turn 18 by the general election date in any given year. Proposition 18 lost, perhaps doomed by voters who have raised a 17-year old.
SANTA BARBARA SPECTACLES
Winner: Democratic Women of Santa Barbara County
The autonomous Dem Women organization, whose leaders often look askance at some of the insider favoritism, log-rolling and patriarchal leaders of the party's central committee, moved counter to the local party on several key endorsements -- and prevailed. While both groups endorsed incumbent school board members Laura Capps and Wendy Sims-Moten in Santa Barbara and Sholeh Jahangir in Goleta, Dem Women went for political outsiders Virginia Alvarez and Vicki Ben-Yaacov, both of whom beat out the party's choices.
Loser: SB Dem Party
There's no question that the Democratic Party endorsement carries huge value in local races, both as a signifier for low-information voters and as a source of campaign resources like phone banks and volunteers. But the tendency to put the highest premium on apparatchik loyalty can make them miss out on high quality candidates.
Winner: Critical Race Theory.
Conservatives in the Santa Barbara Unified School District board of education race routinely railed against the school board's approval of contracts with Just Communities for implicit bias training and a new curriculum for Ethnic Studies, but they never fully developed or explained the argument against critical race theory, the intellectual underpinning of such programs. By failing to make a thorough case against the social science theory that posits racial identities as the fundamental constructs of society, with white people positioned as "oppressors," the failed challengers missed an opportunity to shed light and clarity on the most divisive issues that have beset the district in recent years.
Loser: Fair Education
The ad hoc coalition of parents called Fair Education Santa Barbara deserves credit for giving voice to parents unhappy with the progressive policies of the school board in a number of areas, from building maintenance to sex education courses and woke curricula. But in wading into electoral school board politics, the group stumbled, boosting too large a slate of candidates, acting shady instead of transparent about an allied fundraising committee, clumsily pursuing a low-bore effort to plant and leak negative information about a rival, all while leaving the varsity quarterback lurking in the shadows instead of performing on the field (shout out James Fenkner).