It was interesting reading Dan Walters’ column in The Sacramento Bee this morning. He makes a critical but unintended point – by illustrating where Senator Feinstein was in 1994 versus today.
First he quotes the senator in March: “I couldn’t be more disappointed that President Trump has used his first budget proposal to prioritize the border wall – his pet project – and a deportation force over critical support for state and local law enforcement.”
Twenty-three years ago, when Feinstein ran for senate reelection against Michael Huffington, “she was singing a different tune.”
“While Congressman Huffington voted against new border guards, Dianne Feinstein led the fight to stop illegal immigration,” her TV campaign ad at the time declared.
Politicians, right? Well yeah, sort of.
But, as Mr. Walters points out, Ms. Feinstein “was pretty much in synch with California voters in 1994. They not only re-elected her but passed Proposition 187 to deny public benefits to those in the country illegally, and re-elected Republican Gov. Pete Wilson, a Proposition 187 backer, over Kathleen Brown, Gov. Jerry Brown’s sister.”
And as he pointed out, Senator Feinstein “is also pretty much in synch with California voters today.”
He cites the new IGS Poll from Berkeley which “found that Californians strongly support giving undocumented immigrants a pathway to citizenship, oppose Trump’s plans to build a wall, and narrowly favor local communities’ declaring themselves to be sanctuaries and refusing to cooperate with immigration authorities.”
The year 1994 doesn’t seem that long ago – although none of my current interns were even born then – but what has happened is a massive tectonic shift in California’s politics.
It’s easy to forget that California voted for George Bush in 1998. In 1990, it elected Pete Wilson as governor over Diane Feinstein. Then in 1992, Bill Clinton would win, as would Diane Feinstein and Barbara Boxer for U.S. Senate – though the latter by a razor thin margin.
However, in 1994, the state reelected a previously extremely unpopular Pete Wilson over Jerry Brown’s sister (remember her brother and father were previous governors) – it swept Republicans into constitutional office, it passed Proposition 187 overwhelmingly, and Diane Feinstein barely survived the most expensive senate race in history to that date.
I still remember talking to Sacramento political consultants – the Republicans had just won the assembly, barely, but Willie Brown managed to briefly hold onto power – and consultants were stating that they could not count to 40 let alone 41 in 1996.
A funny thing happened though – while Prop. 187 won easily, the entire state shifted in 1996. Not only did the Democrats re-take the assembly, they did so by a comfortable margin and they would never look back. Since 1996, the only major statewide race the Republicans would win was Arnold Schwarzenegger.
What happened? The Prop. 187 threat mobilized Latino voters and California went from a Republican state to a swing state by the early 1990s, to a safe Democratic state ever since.
The point, I think, a lot of people miss 20 years later is that no one really saw this coming. Maybe polling was not as pervasive back then, but seasoned veterans in Sacramento did not believe that there would be a Latino vote surge.
Prop. 187 transformed Latino voters as well. Prior to 1994, Latinos were not a reliable Democratic vote. In fact, the Diane Feinsteins of the world capitulated on immigration issues. But Latinos saw clearly saw the more conservative and more anti-immigration Republican party as the greater threat, and now Latino voters look far more like African American voters than ever before.
Will 2018 see, as in 1996, a similar shift in the nation as a whole? That is going to be the most interesting question and, just as the polls really did not predict the Trump presidency, polls might not be our best guide here either.
Trump won because he won blue collar voters much more heavily than his predecessor, but he also won because Democratic voters who had come out for Obama stayed home this time.
There are a lot of questions still to be answered, but a big one will be whether people of color, and in particular Hispanics and Muslims, are mobilized and come out heavily in key swing states like never before.
You can ask – why didn’t they come out heavily before this? Well, for one thing Hillary Clinton was a damaged and uninspiring candidate. But another thing is that, for a lot of people, they thought Trump was going to be more bluster than threat.
The first two and a half months of his presidency shows, if anything, he intends to follow through on his promises from the campaign.
Will there be a backlash and a seismic shift in our nation’s politics? That remains to be determined.
—David M. Greenwald reporting