Warn­ing: A po­lit­i­cal storm is brew­ing in SLO County

The Tribune (SLO) (Sunday) - - Opinion - BY TOM FULKS

On the East Coast, peo­ple get used to hur­ri­canes, which gather off­shore and give plenty of warn­ing.

On the West Coast, peo­ple get used to earth­quakes, which lurk un­der­ground and of­fer no warn­ing at all — usu­ally.

Liv­ing in the Trump Era, it seems we’re deal­ing with both phenom­ena at the same time: We know full well there’s a po­lit­i­cal storm over the hori­zon; there’s plenty of warn­ing. Yet when the storm in­evitably ar­rives, hit­ting like an earth­quake, its dev­as­ta­tion seem­ingly catches every­one by sur­prise.

It’s nuts. As the Belt­way cliché goes, crazy is the new nor­mal.

The re­cent midterm elec­tion — in which Democrats swept into of­fice nearly ev­ery­where, in­clud­ing San Luis Obispo County — por­tends a storm brew­ing for 2020, aimed di­rectly at the Repub­li­can Party.

Last elec­tion, we wit­nessed the high­est midterm elec­tion turnout in a cen­tury. In ad­di­tion to tak­ing the House with 40 wins (the big­gest Demo­cratic gain since Water­gate), Democrats flipped Or­ange County from red to blue and took sev­eral seats in the Cen­tral Val­ley — both tra­di­tional GOP strongholds — win­ning all seven tar- geted GOP-held House seats in Cal­i­for­nia.

In Sacra­mento, Democrats re­tained the gov­er­nor­ship, forged su­per­ma­jori­ties in the Assem­bly and Se­nate and now con­trol ev­ery statewide elected po­si­tion.

Democrats also picked up full con­trol of state gov­ern­ments in Colorado, Illi­nois, Maine, New Mex­ico, New York and Ne­vada.

In sev­eral states where Re- publi­cans had full con­trol — Kansas, Michi­gan, New Hamp­shire and Wis­con­sin — they now share power with Democrats.

Demo­cratic wins this year in those states mean a stronger hand when they re­draw con­gres­sional dis­trict lines in 2021.

In SLO County, lo­cal elec­tive of­fices are os­ten­si­bly non­par­ti­san and used to op­er­ate that way. Not any­more.

That said, ev­ery Demo­crat en­dorsed by the Demo­cratic Party won, sweep­ing into or main­tain­ing ma­jori­ties on the city coun­cils in SLO, Ar­royo Grande, Morro Bay and Grover Beach. In Atas­cadero, a Demo­crat won a seat on a City Coun­cil con­trolled ex­clu­sively by Repub­li­cans for at least a dec-

ade.

“The Grand Old Party is dead,” says for­mer Cal­i­for­nia Assem­bly Repub­li­can leader and cur­rent Stanis­laus County Su­per­vi­sor Kristin Olsen in a re­cent CAL­mat­ters opin­ion piece, “partly be­cause it has failed to sep­a­rate it­self from to­day’s toxic, na­tional brand of Repub­li­can pol­i­tics. … (T)he Repub­li­can Party has failed to adapt to chang­ing de­mo­graph­ics and to get back to our … fun­da­men­tal be­lief in lib­erty and re­spon­si­bil­ity, free­dom, eco­nomic op­por­tu­nity, and ed­u­ca­tional ex­cel­lence.”

Olsen lays blame for Democrats mug­ging Cal­i­for­nia Repub­li­cans squarely at the feet of Don­ald Trump.

“In­di­vid­ual Repub­li­cans are good, con­sci­en­tious peo­ple ded­i­cated to serv­ing their com­mu­ni­ties,” Olsen writes, “but they be­long to a brand and a na­tional party that is toxic and grow­ing more toxic by the day. … Ig­nor­ing the tox­i­c­ity is not enough, as Cal­i­for­nia’s elec­tion re­sults demon­strate.”

In SLO County, three Trump Repub­li­cans con­trol the ma­jor­ity of the county Board of Su­per­vi­sors. In 2020, two of them will be up for re­elec­tion.

The GOP once dom­i­nated SLO County’s voter regis­tra­tion and turnout. That edge has been ef­fec­tively elim­i­nated over the past few years by steady Demo­cratic voter regis­tra­tion ef­forts and de­mo­graphic changes trig­gered in large mea­sure by mi­gra­tion from Cal­i­for­nia’s lib­eral ur­ban ar­eas.

Of the 172,544 reg­is­tered SLO County vot­ers, 34.8 per­cent are Repub­li­can, and 34.5 per­cent are reg­is­tered Democrats, a dif­fer­ence of 587 vot­ers.

An­other huge con­trib­u­tor to the di­min­ished lo­cal GOP regis­tra­tion edge is the in­crease in Trump de­fec­tors. “No Party Pref­er­ence” (NPP) vot­ers now make up 24.5 per­cent of reg­is­tered vot­ers.

Repub­li­cans still hold a solid lead in su­per­vi­so­rial Dis­trict 1 (R-44%, D-27%, NPP-24%), rep­re­sented by Repub­li­can John Peschong, up for re-elec­tion in 2020.

Democrats main­tain an edge in Dis­trict 3 (D-39%, R-30%, NPP-25%), held by Demo­crat Adam Hill, also up in 2020.

Dis­trict 5 could be the philo­soph­i­cal bat­tle­ground of SLO County in 2020, when in­cum­bent Trump­ster Su­per­vi­sor Deb­bie Arnold is up for re-elec­tion. There, Repub­li­cans have a 1,496-voter ad­van­tage (R-37%, D-32%, NPP-24%), about the same mar­gin as Arnold’s vic­to­ries in 2012 and 2016.

That dis­trict has swung back and forth over the years be­tween Repub­li­can and Demo­cratic su­per­vi­sors, de­pend­ing on re­dis­trict­ing and how much of the dis­trict is in heav­ily Repub­li­can North County or heav­ily Demo­cratic city of SLO.

Given the anti-Trump fac­tor within the GOP out­lined by Olsen, the grow­ing NPP vote through­out SLO County, and gains made last elec­tion by Democrats in Atas­cadero and the city of SLO, there may just be a storm brew­ing over the hori­zon in Dis­trict 5, aimed at Arnold.

Signs of a mod­est lo­cal po­lit­i­cal earth­quake abound. We’ve been warned.

Lib­eral colum­nist Tom Fulks serves on the San Luis Obispo County Demo­cratic Cen­tral Com­mit­tee.

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