“We have a crucial opportunity to promote our God-given rights in the upcoming primary elections. …
Because voter turnout in the primary elections tends to be very low, people of faith can have even more influence than in the November elections just by taking a few minutes to vote for those who best represent their values.”
So begins the email I received May 29 from Brad Dacus, esq., founder and president of the Sacramento-based Pacific Justice Institute, who during the past 20 years or so has made something of a career out of defending the legal rights of Christians to discriminate against the LGBT community based on their religious beliefs.
You may have never heard of Pacific Justice Institute, but the Southern Poverty Law Center calls it “an anti-LGBT hate group” that has “compared legalized gay marriage to Hitler and the Nazis’ ascent in Germany; endorsed so-called ‘reparative’ or sexual orientation conversion therapy; claimed marriage equality would lead to legal polygamy and incest; fought against protections for trans children and fabricated a story of harassment by a trans student; and said that LGBT History Month promotes gay pornography to children.”
All of the above allegations are true, as the SPLC documents. The comparison of legalized gay marriage to the Nazis is particularly loathsome, considering homosexuals were among the first minorities to be persecuted when Hitler took power in 1933. But views that many of us might find repugnant are taken as articles of faith by the so-called “value voters” Dacus is addressing in his email, which also instructs pastors on how to discuss moral issues from the pulpit without threatening their church’s tax-exempt status.
Dacus wields some degree of influence with the state’s conservative evangelical Christians. PJI, along with a handful of churches that includes Bethel, is currently lobbying to kill three bills in the state legislature that would further restrict the discredited practice of conversion therapy. To justify stripping protected status from one of the nation’s smallest and most-bullied minority groups, they cast themselves as victims in the War On Christianity.
In fact, they are part of a vast political apparatus built over the span of four decades that includes Fox News, think-tanks such as the Heritage Foundation, legal organizations like PJI and religious schools such as Liberty University. This machine reaches out and touches all the people in all the pews in all the evangelical churches across the land, an aging demographic that, for the most part, can be counted on electorally as long as any given candidate regurgitates the sacred beliefs on God, guns, gays and abortion.
Thus, President Donald Trump, who since his inauguration 16 months ago has continually attacked both LGBT rights and reproductive rights for women, including contraception, has become the anointed king of the evangelicals. Trump’s numerous transgressions, past and present, have been forgiven or overlooked.
Similarly, Rep. Doug LaMalfa, who represents California’s 1st Congressional District and appears to have gone full-blown evangelical since Trump assumed the presidency, can count on support from rural northern California’s large block of conservative religious voters, no matter how ineffective he’s been as a legislator in his previous two terms.
Dacus’s email should be read as a wake-up call to anyone hoping the Blue Wave promised by Democrats will somehow surge into the north state come November. No less than four Democrats are contesting LaMalfa’s seat in the June 5 primary election next Tuesday, and so far, no clear front-runner has emerged. LaMalfa appears to be a shoe-in for victory, but who he’ll compete against in November, who will finish second in the jungle primary system, is a mystery.
Dacus is right about at least one thing: Traditionally, voter turnout in midterm primary elections is abysmal compared to the turnout in general elections when the presidency is up for grabs. In my eastern Shasta County voting district, Millville 1/2/3, 1013 out of 1187 registered voters, 85.3 percent, voted in the 2016 presidential election. In the 2014 midterm June primary, only 365 out of 1178 registered voters, a measly 31.7 percent, bothered to vote.
Similar disparities are seen across the county, the state and the nation. The religious right, with its network of media, think-tanks, legal organizations and churches stocked with “values voters,” is prepared to exploit low voter turnout for its own political gain. But what about the opposition? Political pundits are increasingly comparing Trump’s strange bond with the evangelicals to the dystopian novel “The Handmaid’s Tale.” Will that be enough to bring people to the polls?
Come Tuesday, we’ll hopefully have some answers.
LaMalfa and the Race For Second in the First District
I had hoped to offer more comprehensive coverage of the June 5 primary, including the race for the 1st District, but I crashed my motorcycle on May 8 and put myself temporarily out of commission. For those of you who read about that escapade, I’ve changed the ending of the story. Progressive Insurance made me an offer I couldn’t refuse, and I’m using the claim to buy a new car, not a new motorcycle.
That’s right. I’ve set aside a childish thing, namely, my motorcycle, in favor of more adult transportation.
Meanwhile, I’ve developed a rare complication from my broken clavicle and ribs: deep vein thrombosis, a blood clot that can cause a pulmonary embolism if not properly treated. So I’m taking a blood thinner and kicking back, more or less, praying my lungs don’t explode.
In a sense, I owe Dacus a debt of gratitude. During my convalescence, the mail stacked up on the kitchen table, and one of the letters buried deep in the stack was my mail-in ballot for the June 5 primary, which I finally opened after being prompted by Dacus’s email.
There are so many candidates running for governor, U.S. senator and other political offices in the state’s so-called jungle primary system—the top two finishers in each contest, regardless of political party, square-off in November—there were actually two official ballots stuffed in the envelope when I finally slit it open, both of them filled top-to-bottom, front-to-back, in order to squeeze in all the names.
The California Statewide Direct Primary pamphlet I received in the mail offered minimal information on the candidates, with some prominent politicians, such as Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, the front-runner in the gubernatorial race, choosing not to publish a campaign statement at all. The pamphlet does provide some useful information on the five statewide propositions on the ballot, but beyond that, it’s up to the voter to research the candidates on his or her own free time.
That’s a daunting task when you’ve got 32 candidates running for Sen. Diane Feinstein’s seat and 27 running to replace outgoing Gov. Jerry Brown. I’ve been closely following the race for California’s 1st Congressional District, which features six candidates vying to unseat LaMalfa, and I still don’t know who I’m voting for yet.
But I do know that I profoundly disagree with LaMalfa’s vision of the 1st District, which includes Butte, Lassen, Modoc, Plumas, Shasta, Sierra, Siskiyou and Tehama counties and parts of Nevada, Glenn and Placer counties. The millionaire rice farmer has ticked off all the Gods, guns, gays and abortion boxes required by his “values voters” base during his tenure in the House, while consistently ignoring the needs of his most vulnerable constituents.
Nowhere has this been more clear than with LaMalfa’s activities concerning the Farm Bill, Congressional legislation that rolls around every four years that determines how roughly $100 million in annual government funding will be spent. About 80 percent of the funding goes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, SNAP, commonly known as food stamps. The remaining 20 percent goes to farm subsidy programs such as commodity crop insurance, which protects farmers from declines in market prices.
Until 2013, the Farm Bill was considered bipartisan legislation. Liberal urban politicians supported crop subsidies because SNAP helps feed millions of undernourished urban residents; conservative rural politicians supported SNAP because rural farmers require financial protection in a global marketplace where crop prices can fluctuate wildly. The arrival of LaMalfa and the crop of conservative, religious libertarians in the House known as the Tea Party changed all that.
During Farm Bill negotiations as a freshman representative, LaMalfa infamously supported dramatic cuts to SNAP, using biblical verse to justify his position, only to have it revealed in press reports that his family’s farm has accepted millions in farm subsidies. The controversy killed the Farm Bill in the House, and it was left up to the Senate the put the whole mess back together again in the reconciliation process.
You’d think LaMalfa and House Republicans would have learned their lesson, but when the Farm Bill rolled around again this year, they were up to their old tricks. After two years of committee hearings in which various SNAP proposals were presented on more than 20 occasions, Republicans, at the last minute, inserted a previously unheard of proposal to cut SNAP by billions of dollars over the next ten years into the Farm Bill.
LaMalfa, whose family farm stood to benefit from the subsidies that remained in the bill, kept a fairly low profile this time around, stating that he hoped political differences wouldn’t derail the bill. As it turned out, the Farm Bill’s support for the hungry as well as struggling farmers still proved a bit too much for the Freedom Caucus, of which LaMalfa appears to be a rotating member. Once again, the Farm Bill crashed and burned on the House floor, leaving the Senate to pick up the pieces before the bill expires in September.
Of course, LaMalfa’s religious right base rewarded this achievement the first time around by re-electing him to a second term. But can anyone else truly say life in the 1st District has improved during his tenure? Has the massive corporate tax cut passed by Republicans and Trump in December, to date their only legislative achievement, already trickled down and made us great again, as LaMalfa insists on his Facebook page?
Or is the 1st District still struggling to dig its way out the Great Recession, as farmer, educator and Democratic candidate Audrey Denny describes it on her campaign’s web page?
“Our beautiful northern California district is rich with resources and vibrant rural communities, and yet, we have been forgotten,” she writes. “Because of political polarization and the toxic effects of money in politics, our voice is no longer represented in Washington, and we need change now. Seven of our eleven counties are listed within the 15 poorest counties in California. Our schools and hospitals are at risk, our infrastructure is aging and dangerous, and our basic services are being threatened. These are the concerns that people of all backgrounds have expressed to me as I’ve traveled across our vast district—listening to, and learning from, constituents in our 11 counties. It’s time for change.”
The first step toward solving a problem is recognizing you have one in the first place. Denny understands there are significant problems in the 1st District, as do her fellow Democrats Marty Walters and Jessica Jones Holcombe, who are also competing for LaMalfa’s seat. Moreover, they believe government, at the local, state and national level, has a responsibility to solve those problems.
LaMalfa and the “values voters” who comprise his base do not share these beliefs. As long as he keeps ticking off those boxes—God, gays, guns and abortion—LaMalfa will continue to earn support from the religious right, no matter how much of a dud he proves to be as a legislator.
There’s only one way to begin rectifying this state of affairs: Vote for the candidates you think will be harbingers of the change you are seeking in the June 5th primary. As Dacus pointed out in his email, the turn-out is bound to be minuscule, so a small number of voters can truly make all the difference.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some ballots to fill out.