Friday, November 14, 2014

Why Isn't Butte County Blue?

In 2008, Barack Obama won Butte County. He turned Butte County blue. In 2012, he nearly did it again, losing to Mitt Romney by just a two thousand votes and two percentage points. In 2010, Jim Reed, the candidate for the Dems against Republican U.S. House Representative Wally Herger actually took Butte County. And in 2012,  Democrat Jim Reed lost to Doug LaMalfa by two points in Doug LaMalfa's home county.

In 2004, Kerry got walloped by George Bush in Butte County. In 2000, Al Gore did even worse than John Kerry.

But there has been a trend: Gore did awful (Nader took 6 percent of the vote that year, probably the entire listenership of KZFR turned out to vote for him); Kerry did less awful in 2004; Obama won in 2008 and nearly pulled it off a second time in 2012.

The trend over the first 12 years of this century was that the Democrats made significant progress in Butte County. And that makes sense because Chico continues to grow and lots of retirees from more Liberal areas of California have settled into the very affordable retirement communities of Paradise and Magalia. Yes, the Dems should have continued to do well. Yet, in 2014, the election's numbers looked more like they did in 2000. Why? Why did the progress towards Blueness stop?

Of course, much of it is about turnout. In 2008, the turnout was an astounding 87 percent! Even in off year elections, turnout in Butte County has been good---usually around 66 percent. In Presidential elections, Butte County votes in the 80 percent range. Butte County citizens like to vote; they turnout in droves.

And it looks like the turnout this year was better than expected: 52.5 percent. That's well above the average in California. So how did the Dems do in a low turnout year? Heidi Hall was the Democrat running against Doug LaMalfa this year. She turned out to be an excellent candidate. Sharp. A good campaigner. She did great in the debates. But she got beat by Doug LaMalfa 56% to 44% in Butte County. Jerry Brown nearly took Butte County, but not quite. Of course, in Chico, the Democratic candidates for city counsel all got pummeled.

So why the loss of ground by the Democrats in 2014? Especially since Democrats have been gaining ground every year since 2000. Turnout is obviously part of it. If the turnout had been more in the normal range, the Dems obviously would have done better. The fact that turnout was low even in Butte County compared to the past five or six elections is, in itself, a statement. People just didn't have a reason to go to the polls. They have become disenfranchised.

And then there is the fact that the Democratic Central Committee endorsed a very unpopular Cannabis Measure that was written by the rowdy Cannabis Industry. Half the population in Butte County lives in the unincorporated areas. In these areas that have witnessed the problems caused by the influx of Pot Growers from all across the country, Measure B (written by the Cannabis Industry) was very unpopular. The Growers got walloped despite spending a couple hundred thousand dollars and owning the television airwaves with their "it will hurt the patients" commercials. Aligning themselves with the scruffy Cannabis Industry was a major mistake. It seemed the Urban Democrats did everything possible to screw up this election: they played dirty tricks with mailers, they ignored their neighbors in the unincorporated areas that said the Cannabis Industry was out of control. The Urban Democrats chose Hipster Culture over listening to real life problems.

Which is probably why the turnout was so low this year. Nobody in the major parties is listening to the real problems that people have. It was an election of airy fairy issues and slogans. The Urban Democrats felt that regulating an industry that is/was out of control was "prohibition". They got their shirts handed to them.

The Chico Democrats thought they could trick their way into retaining power. It didn't work.

What's the solution? Start to listen. Develop a rural program that addresses the needs of rural and urban people. And don't wear ideological blinders that skews your analysis as to the real consequences of Hipster Values. The Democrats certainly misread the anger against the Cannabis Industry. All it would have taken for these Dems to change their minds was to go knock on a few doors out in the country (if you can get past the pitbulls and the armed citizenry). Rural Butte County has changed over the last few years. Endorsing Measures that will cause more problems was not a popular, nor a smart, strategy.

So what will happen in 2016? The Democrats will only turn this county blue if they start to listen to what the needs of the people are. There is no rural program in the Democratic Party. Until they develop one, the people will continue to vote for the party that actually seems to listen to them. Right now the Dems just seem to want to bark at them. To pontificate. Or to obfuscate. That doesn't work. This year proved that assertion quite well.

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