Post-racial politics in California
Over the past several decades, California has evolved into the nation's ― and likely the hemisphere's ― most complex society.
A mostly white, conservative society ― Kansas on the left coast, some said ― two generations ago became a melange of ethnicities, cultures, religions, lifestyles and economic subgroups. Or as Dorothy in the "Wizard of Oz" told her dog, "Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore."
Whatever California has become ― Oz, perhaps? ― Los Angeles is an even more densely distilled version. Just as the nation looks to California for clues to what it will experience in the decades ahead, positively and negatively, Californians look to their largest city.
That's what makes the squabbling over drawing 15 new Los Angeles City Council districts so intriguing.
A commission dominated by agents of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, a Latino, and City Council President Herb Wesson, who is black, drafted a plan that is drawing fire from civil rights groups for not expanding opportunities to elect non-white council members.
Steven Ochoa of the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund complained the plan "will directly put Latino and African American communities in electoral conflict throughout the coming decade."
It's evident that ethnicity played a much smaller role in the backroom dickering over council seats ― full-time, politically powerful positions ― than personal and factional politics.
Villaraigosa and Wesson, both former speakers of the California Assembly, were apparently much more interested in consolidating their own power by helping friends and disabling rivals than in enhancing the political fortunes of their respective ethnic groups.
A onetime Villaraigosa friend and political ally, Assemblyman Gil Cedillo, for example, is complaining that the plan was drawn to minimize his chances of winning a City Council seat and help a rival with close connections to the city's political leadership.
"It's very evident that they cut me out," Cedillo told the Los Angeles Times.
Another apparent victim of the plan is black Councilman Bernard Parks, a former police chief who ran against Villaraigosa for mayor in 2005 and is considered to be an ideological moderate.
Bill Boyarsky, the most perceptive chronicler of Los Angeles politics, put it this way in a website analysis: "There are many theories, but as of now I'll write it off as another example of the murkiness of Los Angeles politics."
Murky or not, it signals the emergence of post-racial politics in California.
As those once considered to be "minority groups" achieve numerical dominance, ethnicity and race fade as political factors, replaced by the personal and ideological motivations exhibited by white politicians when they are dominant.
The article was published by Sacramento Bee and distributed by Scripps Howard News Service.