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Three Korean American women to Congress

By ANH DOSTAFF WRITER NOV. 15, 20205 AM

By text, by phone and by social media, they trumpeted the news from California to Asia: Late Friday, Young Kim had joined her “sister” Michelle Steel in making history as two of the first three Korean American women ever elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.

In winning two hotly contested Southern California districts, Kim and Steel helped Republicans push back against the blue wave that resulted in Democrats gaining all seven Orange County congressional seats in the 2018 midterms.

The two Orange County Republicans will be sworn into office in January alongside a third Korean American congresswoman-elect, Marilyn Strickland, a Democrat from western Washington state.

Apart from politics, many Korean Americans said it was a moment to savor.

“How cool is this?” said Ellen Ahn, executive director of the nonprofit Korean Community Services, the largest Korean American social services agency in Orange County. “It’s amazing that women are making inroads on all political platforms.”

For Steel and Kim, the victories go beyond giving California’s beleaguered GOP a boost; they could offer the party a way forward, post-Trump, to appeal to voters outside the white, suburban Republican base.

National exit polls showed that Asian Americans backed Joe Biden over President Trump. Political analysts say there are lessons in the wins by Steel and Kim, which came even though Biden beat Trump in Orange County, and after years of outreach by local Republicans to Asian communities.

“It looked like they were taking Asian votes for granted in the past, so they had to start paying more attention to the communities,” said Karthick Ramakrishnan, a professor of public policy and political science at UC Riverside. “These wins prove the Republican Party is still strong in O.C., and the message they want to share with people is that you have a home in our party.”

In a rematch of their 2018 contest, Kim, a former state Assembly member, defeated Gil Cisneros with 50.6% of the vote in the 39th District, which spans Anaheim Hills to Buena Park and includes parts of Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties. Steel triumphed over incumbent Harley Rouda with 51.03% of the vote in the coastal 48th District, which stretches from Seal Beach to Laguna Niguel. Workers are still counting provisional and mail-in ballots, but the victories are clear in both districts.

The contests were among the most closely watched battles for the House, and coverage in Korean-language media was intense.

Steel, 65, said she wouldn’t be heading to Washington “without teamwork. At this stage, the first feeling I have is relief.

“It’s been tough,” she added. “What made the difference is I stick to my issues, and I’m determined to fight for less government regulations and more aid for the small businesses.”

Kim, 58 — who received a congratulatory call from Cisneros, a Navy veteran and lottery winner turned philanthropist — posted a message on her Facebook page Friday evening. “As an immigrant to America, I know that the promise of America is alive,” she said in the video. “Thank you for your faith in me, and let’s get to work.”

Kim, born in Incheon, South Korea, grew up in Guam before moving to Hawaii, then went to USC to earn a degree in business administration. The mother of four worked for Ed Royce, then a state senator, and stayed on his staff after his election to the U.S. House of Representatives, devoting more than two decades as his community liaison and director of Asian affairs. She served in the California Assembly from 2014 to 2016 and, when Royce retired two years ago, decided to run for federal office.

“Whoever you voted for in this election, I hope you know that regardless of any differences we may have, I will always work on your behalf and fight for you,” Kim said in the video.

Steel, chairwoman of the Orange County Board of Supervisors, signaled her intention to continue creating “stepping stones” to public office for young Asian Americans.

In an interview last week before her flight to the nation’s capital to attend orientation, she reflected on her relationship with Kim. The women’s children are close, and Steel’s mother and Kim’s father-in-law taught at the same high school in South Korea.

“Young and I, we go way back,” she said. “You can be sure we’ll be helping one another, doing projects together.”

Last Tuesday, word of Steel’s election prompted Kim to post to Facebook an old photo of the two hugging. “So excited to see my good friend and sister Michelle Steel win her seat to represent the CA-48!” Kim wrote. “Congratulations on your hard-fought campaign!”

Steel, a mother of two, is the daughter of a diplomat who moved the family from their native South Korea to Japan. She later immigrated to the United States to attend Pepperdine University and earned an MBA from USC. She is married to Shawn Steel, former chairman of the California Republican Party, and has served on the State Board of Equalization.

Ahn said the wins by Steel and Kim “are such a validation of the immigrant experience. Having a person who looks like you and having a seat at the highest level of government can be a game-changer. I hope they don’t forget the issues that affect people of color, and healthcare tops that list.”

Strickland, who served as mayor of Tacoma from 2010 to 2018, challenged legislator and environmental activist Beth Doglio in Washington’s 10th Congressional District, which covers the southern portion of Puget Sound from Olympia to the Tacoma suburbs. Strickland won with 58.1% of the vote.

In the weeks leading to the election, she took part in a Zoom call featuring all five Korean American candidates for Congress, including Andy Kim (D-New Jersey), who won reelection, and David Kim, an immigration attorney who ran unsuccessfully to represent California’s 34th District. “It was remarkable to have us all talking,” Strickland said.

“It’s hardly easy running for national office and, as a woman, just think of the calculations we make before we can jump in,” she added. “Not only do you need to ask, ‘Am I qualified?’; you also have to ask, ‘How’s this going to affect everyone else in my family?,’ as women are the primary caregivers.”

Like Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, Strickland, 58, is of Asian and Black heritage.

“There are still issues of inequities we need to resolve,” she said, “and though I understand my duty to my past, I’m also here to represent all of my constituents.”

The rise of Korean Americans in Congress, particularly of Kim and Steele, is partly the result of significant investment by the GOP to diversify its ranks and launch targeted outreach at Asian American voters starting in 2013, according to observers. Some of those efforts have been obscured by Trump’s actions and caustic comments about immigrants, rhetoric that critics say fuels racism and violence. In March 2018, Steel was the only elected official to greet Trump when he arrived at Los Angeles International Airport on his first official trip to California as president. Kim, meanwhile, publicly criticized the commander-in-chief’s use of the term “kung flu,” saying such language incites hate against Asian Americans.

Ramakrishnan said the GOP’s Growth and Opportunity Project has aimed to transform the party — it set aside $10 million to create better connections with minority communities and spur efforts to recruit and back Asian American candidates.

Most Asian Americans vying for Congress come from districts that are not majority Asian, Ramakrishnan said. That’s true in Steel’s 48th District, which is 71.8% white, 15.9% Asian, 11.8% Latino and 0.5% Black; and in Kim’s 39th District, which is 49.4% white, 25.7% Latino, 24.1% Asian and 0.8% Black.

A preliminary analysis shows that in early returns for Steel, her core support came from affluent white neighborhoods, according to the Orange County Civic Engagement Table.

“I think it was very clear there was an investment by the Republicans in this district,” said Jonathan Paik, the group’s executive director. “Overall, the questions remain for any of the winners: How committed are they to better listen to Asian American voters? Are they still going to represent the most vulnerable communities, the ones most struggling and the undocumented? Yes, the O.C. landscape is shifting, and we’ll all be watching to see how these officials make their mark.”

Both Paik and Tammy Kim — the top vote-getter in the Irvine City Council election, who will assume her new position in January — said outreach by Kim and Steele in Asian languages leveraged their backgrounds to attract the relatively small proportion of Asian Americans in their regions.

“If you believe that every vote counts, they did fully embrace that,” Tammy Kim said, citing Steel’s texts and mailersreleased in both simplified and traditional Chinese. Both women also appeared on Vietnamese-language television.

Young Kim had an edge over Cisneros who was “shut out by Korean media, though he was a strong advocate for the Korean community through his term and did so much for Korean veterans and adoptees through legislation,” Tammy Kim said.

Some immigrants believe that what helped Kim and Steel cement their victories was a mistake made byJeff LeTourneau, the vice chair of the Orange County Democratic Party, who shared a Facebook post glorifying Ho Chi Minh, the former communist leader of North Vietnam. His comments led to immediate criticism from politicians of both parties and from the county’s conservative-leaning Vietnamese American community, which backed Trump for reelection.

“Again, Asian American voices are becoming more dominant, as they should be,” Tammy Kim said.

Strickland, the Washington representative, can’t forget how her 91-year-old mother reacted upon hearing that her daughter had cleared a historic hurdle.

“Every generation, people want better for their children. And she was happy about a 14-point victory,” Strickland recalled. “Then she said, ‘Now you have to work really hard to get reelected.’ ”

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Ballot data reveals curious shifts

How did your neighborhood vote? Ballot data for Orange County reveals curious shifts, splits

Some minds changed. Some communities switched. Some ballots were split. A precinct-level exploration of county voting records offers a glimpse of an unusual election.

By BROOKE STAGGS | bstaggs@scng.comIAN WHEELER | iwheeler@scng.com and ALICIA ROBINSON | arobinson@scng.com | Orange County RegisterPUBLISHED: November 13, 2020 at 5:30 p.m. | UPDATED: November 15, 2020 at 10:23 a.m.

Over the past month, more people turned out to vote in Orange County than in any election in more than a half century.

With old trends upended by the coronavirus pandemic and political rhetoric, more voters submitted their ballots via drop box than by any other voting method.

And while reliably blue neighborhoods in Santa Ana and Irvine strongly favored President-elect Joe Biden, President Donald Trump flipped Little Saigon this year, which in 2016 gravitated toward Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.

These are a few of the electoral facts emerging as the Orange County Registrar of Voters counts the last of the ballots from the 2020 general election.Top ArticlesUCLA studied film of Denver Broncos’ offense to preparefor CalUCLA studied film of Denver Broncos’ offense to prepare for CalREAD MORERams defense rises to occasion again in 23-13 win over SeahawksREAD MOREYorba Linda Country Riders trot into the future with 50th anniversary showREAD MOREREAD MOREWhicker: The silencer: Dustin Johnson routs the record book and the Masters fieldREAD MORECoronavirus: 639 new cases and 2 new deaths reported in Orange County on Nov. 15READ MOREjavascript:false00:28/00:30SKIP AD

While final numbers are expected to be certified in December, a precinct-level analysis of the preliminary totals offers insight into how local voting patterns have changed, where some residents left ballots blank and when they did something increasingly rare in American politics — split their tickets.

The vote for president

Across the county, 54% of voters chose for Biden while 44% picked Trump. Another 2% voted for third-party candidates.

This election, the county was diced into 1,795 precincts, many with hundreds or thousands of registered voters and others with as few as zero.https://public.tableau.com/views/OCgeneralelex2016-2020map/Dashboard1?:embed=y&:display_count=yes&publish=yes&:toolbar=no&:showVizHome=no

While many neighborhoods showed a presidential preference that mirrored the overall county numbers, most were at least somewhat lopsided. In all, some four in ten of all active precincts showed a difference of 10 percentage points or less between Biden and Trump, while more than half (55%) showed a bigger gap.

If you pull away the tiniest precincts, where just a few votes were cast, Biden is most popular in the neighborhoods around UC Irvine, which include student and faculty housing. In those, Biden won around 9 out of 10 votes out of about 2,300 ballots cast for president.

Trump’s support in Orange County was more scattered.

While the outgoing president got 100% of the vote in a small horse country precinct in Orange Park Acres, where all 14 voters chose him, and 11 out of 12 votes cast in a precinct that touches Newport Beach’s Back Bay, the most Trump-friendly standard precincts weren’t quite as supportive. For example, in the voting zone that includes Fashion Island, where 2,232 ballots were cast for president, Trump took about 65% of the vote.

The data also showed this: In some parts of Orange County, voters changed their minds about Trump.

Four years ago, Clinton led strongly over Trump in many neighborhoods of Santa Ana and Little Saigon. This election, while many Santa Ana precincts still favored Biden, the share of votes that went to Trump grew. And in much of Little Saigon, centered in Westminster, voters that once liked Clinton outright favored Trump this time around.

Conversely, voters in some parts of Mission Viejo and other South County areas who in ’16 liked went to Biden this year.

Looking at total votes by city, Villa Park, Yorba Linda and Newport Beach, the first, second and third most Republican cities by party registration, were, in that order, Trump’s strongest supporters.

However, the same wasn’t true for Biden. Voter registration shows that Santa Ana, Stanton and Anaheim are the county’s top three Democrat cities, but Biden drew his biggest vote shares in Santa Ana, Irvine and Laguna Beach.

How we cast ballots

The March primary was the first time a ballot was mailed to ever registered voter, and the first time the county opened multi-day vote centers and placed drop boxes around the county to collect mail ballots.

Though Orange County Registrar of Voters Neal Kelley couldn’t have anticipated the coronavirus when he began pushing to update the county’s voting system in 2017, the changes that started in March came in handy during the general election, allowing anyone who chose to cast a ballot from home.https://flo.uri.sh/visualisation/4333315/embed

Kelley said it’s hard to tell how much the pandemic influenced voters’ behavior because the high turnout for the Nov. 3 election included some younger voters who may simply have been energized to vote early. But he said, “We did hear from a lot of voters that they were thankful that they did have the opportunity to vote through the mail because of COVID.”

Another sign of things to come: the term “vote by mail” ballots might not be 100% accurate anymore. More people ultimately returned their Nov. 3 ballots via county drop boxes (about 583,000) than sent them by the postal service (about 512,000), while another group (about 195,000) brought completed mail ballots to vote centers during the last five days they were open.

The last week before Election Day, the registrar’s data shows a clear drop-off in voters using USPS and a spike in use of drop boxes. This came despite some confusion over unofficial drop boxes placed by the California Republican Party, and online chatter about whether drop boxes were secure. Kelley said there were no broad problems related to any voting method.

Changes in how voters cast their ballots also appears to have changed how results were reported, upending conventional wisdom from prior election cycles.

In previous Orange County elections, ballots counted on election night included votes cast early in the mail-in period and in person — a voting block that typically leaned Republican. But ballots counted and reported after Election Day tended to favor Democrats.

This year, for reasons ranging from fears of the postal service being slow to spread of coronavirus, the voting patterns seemed to shift. Democrats mailed their ballots in early and Republicans voted on Election Day. That meant the first vote counts announced favored Democrats, while the next round of vote counts shifted to Republicans. And as later mail-in votes and provisional ballots have been counted, the Democrat tilt hasn’t been pronounced, with many Republican candidates making gains as final ballots are tallied.

Kelley said he expects use of mail ballots to continue to grow, though many voters may opt not to return them through the post office. The 1,000-pound metal ballot drop boxes were permanently installed and will remain in place for future elections.

Historic voter turnout

Orange County posted high voter turnout in this election, shattering the notable 2016 number and on track to tie with turnout last seen in 1968.

As of Friday, Nov. 13, county turnout was 86.6%, with 1.53 million ballots cast from a pool of 1.77 million registered voters.

That’s significantly higher than statewide turnout, which as of Friday was at 75.3%. Both figures will inch up even as late mail-in and provisional ballots are tallied, with more than 1 million ballots still being processed across the state as of Thursday night.

In the 2016 election, voter turnout was at 80.7% in Orange County, with 1.2 million ballots cast from 1.5 million registered voters. That marked the county’s highest election participation rate in four decades — O.C. turnout was 67.3% in 2012, 72.6% in 2008 and 73.2% in 2004.

The county’s all-time turnout record is 90%, hit in 1960 and again in 1964.

Heading into this election, Kelley had predicted perhaps an 80% turnout given the enthusiasm on both sides of the aisle. His office doubled its scanning and automation capacity over the past six months so they’d be ready, with O.C. counting ballots at a significantly faster rate than neighboring counties.

Ballots partially complete

Most people who vote regularly have at one time or another “undervoted,” meaning they’ve left some races or measures blank, whether by mistake, as a protest against the available choices, or because they didn’t know enough about the candidates or measures to decide.

Some Orange County voters failed to vote in certain contests, but on top-of-the-ticket choices most people had their minds made up. The presidential race appeared to have the lowest rate of undervoting of anything on the ballot, with fewer than 1% of voters not picking a candidate, according to the registrar’s data.

That’s a change from four years ago, said Michael Alvarez, a Caltech political science professor who studies elections and voting. His research found that in the 2016 general election there was a national jump in voters who passed on casting a vote for president, with Republicans often unwilling to pull the lever for Trump or Clinton.

This year, most county voters also made their wishes known in congressional and state assembly races, and on statewide initiatives and a few local measures only about 5% of ballots cast left those options blank.

“Most likely, when you see an undervote, it’s because people don’t know the choices,” Alvarez said.

Because California ballots are often quite long, he added, there’s an increasing tendency to “roll off,” or quit filling in boxes, the farther down a voter gets.

Voters split tickets

There’s also evidence that some Orange County voters split their tickets, casting votes for Democrats and Republicans on the same ballots.

Though split-ticket voting was common as recently as the late 1970s, it’s become rare as politics have become more polarized.

It’s tough to definitively identify ticket splitting without seeing actual ballots, since other factors can come into play. But in a majority of O.C. congressional districts there were thousands more ballots cast for Biden than for Trump, while tighter margins — or even reversed partisan results — were seen in House contests, with little evidence of ballot drop-off between those races.

The biggest discrepancy was in the local portion of the 39th House District, which Includes northern Orange County cities from Buena Park to Anaheim Hills. There, Biden had 51% of the vote Friday while Democratic incumbent Rep. Gil Cisneros had 47%. Meanwhile, in the same area, Trump had 45% of the vote while Republican congressional contender Young Kim had 51%.

Even after accounting for third-party presidential candidates and other factors, the results indicate thousands of people voted Biden for president and Kim for Congress.

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The only congressional district where it appears voters may have split their tickets the other way was the 46th District, which includes Anaheim, Santa Ana and parts of Orange. There, Democratic incumbent Rep. Lou Correa earned a higher percentage of votes than Biden, while Correa’s Republican competitor received a lower slice of the vote than Trump. That suggests several thousand CA-46 residents — who in the March primary backed Democrat Bernie Sanders for president — voted for Correa and Trump.

Kevin Wallsten, political science professor at Cal State Long Beach, said most people still vote the party line. “It is also obvious, however, that there is an anti-Trump/never-Trump/save-democracy constituency in the Republican Party that probably voted for Biden as a protest to Trump but wanted to check the Democratic Party more broadly by voting for conservative candidates down ballot.”

Wallsten doesn’t expect such ticket splitting to be a trend, however.

“Once Trump is off the ballot,” he said, “many Republicans will probably ‘return home.’”

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Voters reject Prop 13

Large commercial properties would face higher property taxes under Proposition 15.(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)By JOHN MYERSSACRAMENTO BUREAU CHIEF NOV. 10, 20207:17 PM UPDATEDNOV. 11, 2020 | 3:35 PM

SACRAMENTO —  

A four-decade quest to downsize Proposition 13, California’s famed limit on property taxes, has come up short after supporters failed to convince a new generation of voters that businesses should pay more to help fund schools and local services.

Defenders of the landmark 1978 tax-cutting initiative say that the defeat of this year’s proposal, Proposition 15, should serve as a warning to liberal activists and labor unions.

“Like it or not, Prop. 13 has almost mythical powers against those who would assail it,” Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn., wrote last week.

On Tuesday, the Associated Press projected Proposition 15 had been defeated with 48% of votes in support and 52% opposed — more than 15 million votes have been tallied so far. Final results aren’t expected until the end of the month.

More than $139 million was spent by supporters and opponents combined on the Proposition 15 campaign. Its backers spent years crafting their plan to strip high-value business properties from the protections provided by Proposition 13, arguing that the long-standing law has allowed powerful corporations to avoid paying property taxes they can easily afford. Had they prevailed, independent analysts said, the higher business property taxes could have brought in as much as $11.5 billion a year in new funds for public schools and local governments.

The California Teachers Assn., one of the state’s most politically powerful labor unions, contributed more than $20 million to the campaign in favor of Proposition 15.

“We came very close, but we demonstrated the power of democracy in action. We demonstrated the difference we can make for ourselves and the next generation. That alone is a victory,” E. Toby Boyd, the union’s president, said in a statement.

Supporters prevailed in Los Angeles, the Bay Area and a handful of other coastal counties, according to unofficial returns. But Proposition 15 ran into strong opposition just about everywhere else, resoundingly rejected in the Central Valley, Inland Empire and Orange and San Diego counties.

The tally of support was close to that found in a poll last month by the UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies, in which 49% of likely voters said they would vote for Proposition 15. The business-funded campaign opposed to Proposition 15 said its own private polling found that voters who were undecided toward the end broke sharply against the measure.

Check this page for live California election results

Where Proposition 13 sets the value of a property by its purchase price and caps the annual tax at 1% of the value, Proposition 15 would have generated new tax revenue by allowing more frequent valuations of commercial and industrial property holdings worth $3 million or more. Some lower-valued properties would have also been swept into the system because their owners have large portfolios of property across California.

“California voters understood the very real threat Proposition 15 presented to small businesses, farmers and consumers,” Allan Zaremberg, president of the California Chamber of Commerce, said in a written statement. “Voters in California smartly recognized that enacting the largest tax hike in California history would have been devastating to jobs, our economy and California’s future competitiveness.”

While the homeowner tax protections of Proposition 13 have remained popular over the last four decades, liberal interest groups and labor unions believed few voters realized that the low-tax rules also applied to multimillion-dollar corporations. Numerous studies revealed that many of these companies, many headquartered in Southern California and the Bay Area, operate in facilities where land values have changed very little since the 1970s — even as new businesses and homeowners alike pay taxes on property assessed more closely to market value.

Larry Grisolano, a Democratic campaign consultant to the effort supporting Proposition 15, said the big business donors to the opposition campaign — which spent some $72 million to defeat the initiative — were never mentioned in the advertising blitz.

“There was not one element of the ‘no’ campaign that said we should keep helping these big corporations,” he said. “That ought to tell you something.”

Instead, business groups focused on Proposition 15’s potential impact on small businesses. Their advertising campaign hammered away at the fact that business owners who lease their locations are often required to pay some, or all, of the building owner’s property taxes.

And while Proposition 15 was explicit in its protection of residential property tax rules, some of its opponents ominously warned that it was the first step toward a complete overhaul or outright repeal of Proposition 13.

Too few voters were swayed by the promise of new, substantial tax revenue. About 40% of the revenue would have been sent to K-12 schools and community colleges, while the remaining 60% would go to counties, cities and special districts for services such as law enforcement and fire suppression. The Berkeley poll found that less than a majority of middle-aged voters and those who described themselves as moderates or conservatives believed the new tax revenue was needed.

Though other tax increases have been approved by California voters in recent years, the uncertainty of the current economy may have presented too strong a head wind for Proposition 15 supporters. The pandemic, Grisolano said, created “cross-pressures” for voters who are worried about schools and public health but fearful of a staggering economy.

“People have a very strong sense of uncertainty,” he said. “Those insecurities make it very difficult for them to take a risk on a change.”

Howard Jarvis, chief sponsor of the controversial Proposition 13, signals victory as he casts his own vote at the Fairfax-Melrose precinct. June 6, 1978 photo by Ben Olender/Los Angeles Times. For From The Archives.

CALIFORNIA

Proposition 13 treats all California property taxes the same. Voters could change that in 2020

Supporters of changing the rules for corporate property taxes are unlikely to see the relatively narrow defeat of Proposition 15 as the end of the effort. The proposal had the support of Gov. Gavin Newsom, who has also suggested broader reviews of California’s tax structure in an effort to limit some of the lingering effects of Proposition 13 — most notably, how the cut in property taxes made government services more dependent on income and sales taxes, both susceptible to rapid up-and-down changes.

Boyd, whose union of more than 300,000 educators has led a number of efforts to increase K-12 school funding, said the pandemic-induced recession has only amplified the needs of students.

“The fight for much-needed funding for equitable resources continues as our schools and communities face billions in devastating budget cuts,” he said in a statement.

Any new effort would likely again be contested by business groups, who argue that California is already one of the most expensive states in the country for entrepreneurs and corporate operations.

Whether any future effort would more directly tackle the legacy of Proposition 13 is unclear. Neither side in the Proposition 15 campaign chose to invoke the well-known proposition, and public polling suggests voters generally think of it in positive terms.

Similar polls have also found support for rethinking the tax law’s benefits to business — an embrace of an idea that the election results suggest may be hard to turn into reality.