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Don’t Blame City For State’s Woes

By Rob Wrenn Special to the Planet
Friday January 02, 2004

As our new governor makes the state’s fiscal crisis worse by cutting the vehicle license fee, and as he reneges on promises not to cut education, don’t blame me or my fellow Berkeleyans.  

Berkeley residents can fairly say that they had nothing to do with bringing about the current sorry state of affairs. Or at least they had less to do with it than residents of any other city in the state. 

The shopping mall-based voter revolt in California that removed a recently re-elected governor and replaced him with an oversized actor with a long history of groping women found few recruits here in Berkeley. 

In case you don’t already know it, be advised that people in Berkeley are quite different from people in most of the rest of this state when it comes to politics. If you need proof for this, you need look no further than the results of the recent recall election. (See Table 1, right.) 

Berkeley is the only city in the state where Arnold Schwarzenegger came in third, losing not only to Cruz Bustamante, the self-appointed Democratic replacement candidate for now-former Gov. Gray Davis, but also to Green Party candidate Peter Camejo.  

Almost 89 percent of Berkeley’s voters voted against recalling Gray Davis, the highest percentage of no votes in the whole state. Left-of-center strongholds like San Francisco and Santa Cruz also rejected the recall by large margins, but nobody wanted to keep Davis in office more than Berkeley’s voters. 

Lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamante managed to get only 31.5 percent vote statewide, but 74 percent voted for him in Berkeley, his best showing in the state. 

Davis did remarkably well in the recall in Berkeley in light of his weaker performance in the November 2002 general election. In the 2002 election, Davis got 65.8 percent in Berkeley to 25.8 percent for Peter Camejo and 7.0 percent for Republican candidate Bill Simon.  

In recent elections, Green Party candidates have done relatively well in elections where a segment of progressive voters have concluded that they could safely vote for a Green over a more moderate or conservative Democrat without throwing the election to a Republican. (See Table 2, right.) 

Davis had a solid lead over Simon in the polls leading up to the 2002 election, while polls prior to the recall showed the recall and Schwarzenegger ahead. 

For an another example of strategic voting by left-leaning Berkeley voters, consider the 2000 U.S. Senate election. Conservative Democrat Diane Feinstein, who recently helped pass Republican Medicare privatization legislation, lost a considerable number of votes to Green candidate Medea Benjamin when she ran for re-election in November 2000. Her GOP opponent Tom Campbell was behind in the polls and lost by a big margin. 

It’s not surprising that Republican candidates for state and national office consistently run behind Green candidates in Berkeley. Only 6.9 percent of Berkeley’s voters are registered Republicans, while 7.1 percent are registered Greens. Sixty-three percent are registered Democrats.  

In Berkeley, Republicans are as much a “third party” as Greens. Democrats outnumber Greens and Republicans combined by more than 4 to 1. 

The recall lost and Bustamante won by landslide margins in every precinct in Berkeley. In fact to call the results a landslide would be an understatement. The closest thing to good news for Republicans came from precinct 320, located above Claremont Avenue, where a little more than 20 percent voted for the recall and for Schwarzenegger. 

While Bustamante beat Schwarzenegger by better than 8-1 citywide, a mega-landslide, he won by a more ordinary 3-1 landslide in precinct 320. The area above Claremont has the highest average income in the city. 

The only other precinct where the recall garnered even 20 percent support was in one student precinct south of the UC campus where many fraternities and sororities are located. 

Looking at the results of the October election, it’s possible to identify the most progressive, anti-Republican area of the city.  

In the precincts west of Shattuck Avenue and east of Sacramento Street, between Bancroft Way and Ashby Avenue, Schwarzenegger got 5 percent or less of the votes cast. Green Party candidate Peter Camejo did well in areas with the highest percentages of tenants both south of campus and downtown, where he got 10-14 percent. 

The recall lost in all the state’s big cities except San Diego. It passed because of strong support in the San Joaquin Valley and other agricultural areas, and in the newer sprawl suburbs. In Alameda County, the recall failed everywhere but in the East County communities of Livermore, Pleasanton and Dublin, the part of the county with the highest proportion of new housing development.  

In the City of Los Angeles, the recall lost by a solid margin, but outlying and more suburban areas of Los Angeles County voted solidly for the recall. 

Sutter County, northeast of Sacramento, was where the recall was most popular. 77 percent voted yes. Yuba City, the biggest community in Sutter County, has the dubious distinction have having been rated the worst place to live in the United States by Rand McNally. 

If a researcher were to take a closer look at where Schwarzenegger and the recall did well, I bet he or she would find a correlation with the following: 

• Areas with limited public transit and high car dependency. 

• Areas where Wal Mart accounts for a higher percentage of local retail sales. 

• Areas with lots of newer “dumb growth,” sprawl single-family housing developments. 

• Areas where a high percentage of restaurants are chain restaurants.