Ballots are out for the June 5 primary election, an election that will shape the fate of our region and our state. We can expect conflict and some nasty campaigns, but it’s unlikely we’ll experience anything as dysfunctional as what’s going on in national politics.
The bitter partisan divide in Washington is minimized in California because we have become essentially a one-party state—just 25% of California voters are registered Republicans and Democrats control all statewide offices and overwhelming majorities in the state legislature and Congressional delegation. That means most of the conflict we’ll see will be among Democrats touting how liberal or moderate they are.
With California’s top-two primary system, the two candidates who get the most votes—whatever their party—proceed to a November runoff, so we’ll probably see races between two Democrats for senator, governor and other statewide offices. If so, we can expect some nasty intra-party fights with a lot of money and effort expended on same-party contests. Watch for the Democratic candidates to try to outdo one another in leading the state’s resistance to President Trump.
In a few competitive congressional districts, however, the fight will be between Democrats and Republicans, with the former hoping to pick up a few seats currently held by the latter if the blue wave continues to wash over California.
At the local level, this election could reshape majorities on the San Jose City Council and the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors. Progressive factions on both bodies could become stronger or weaker, depending on the outcome of key races for board and council.
Supervisor Ken Yeager, a leading member of the Board’s progressive majority, is termed out. Some candidates to replace him would work comfortably with the current progressive majority; others could shake up the Board.
Two city council races could affect the majority on the council as well. Mayor Liccardo leads a business-friendly faction that usually (but not always) includes four votes besides his own—Chappie Jones plus the council’s three Republicans (Lan Diep, Johnny Khamis and Dev Davis). The council’s more liberal faction includes Don Rocha, Raul Peralez, Magdalena Carrasco, Sylvia Arenas and Sergio Jimenez who also usually vote together. Tam Nguyen has sometimes been the swing vote between these factions.
But Tam Nguyen is up for re-election and faces six opponents while Rocha is termed out and six candidates are vying to replace him. If both seats go to business-friendly candidates, the mayor’s majority would be secure. If both go to labor-friendly candidates, he could find himself in the minority on at least some votes.
But while this election will shape that fate, it’s important to recognize that politics in the Valley has not deteriorated to the level of our national government. Relations among our local officials—of whatever faction or party—are generally cordial and most votes are unanimous with divisions playing out over only a narrow range of issues. Politics in the Valley is not a “swamp,” as President Trump describes Washington, and the outcome of this election won’t make it one.
For more on the crucial local races, including predictions about which candidates will make runoff elections, check out the May episode of Valley Politics, with Teresa Alvarado (SPUR) and Jennifer Wadsworth (Metro).
—Terry Christensen, Co-producer and Host, Valley Politics and Professor Emeritus, San Jose State University