Diversity of the Top of the Ticket Should Concern Democrats

This year, the party of (overwhelmingly white) elephants may just put up their most diverse statewide ticket ever. California GOP voters appeared poised to anoint their first-ever female candidate for governor, Meg Whitman – and perhaps their first-ever woman U.S. Senate nominee, too.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has appointed state Sen. Abel Maldonado as lieutenant governor, and Maldonado is running for the seat whether he’s confirmed by the Democratic Legislature or not. If he’s the Republican nominee, he would be the first GOP Latino running for the state’s second-highest post since Romualdo Pacheco in 1870.

In addition, women are likely to be the Republican nominees for treasurer and superintendent of public instruction, and an African American may get the nod for secretary of state – the first time a black will have ever run as a Republican nominee for statewide office.

And in response to this potentially unprecedented diversity at the top of the Republican ticket, we Democrats could end up with a ticket that consists at the top of … two white guys from San Francisco?

With San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom’s last-minute entry into the lieutenant governor’s race last week, state Sen. Dean Flores, who had been actively angling for the post for several years, dropped out. And since Attorney General Jerry Brown, also a San Francisco native, has the field all to himself in the governor’s race, the only possibility we have for diversity at the top of the ticket is Los Angeles City Councilwoman Janice Hahn, who has been running hard for lieutenant governor since September.

A compelling case can be made for Hahn’s inclusion on a ticket with Brown. First, although California Republicans actually have nominated women for lieutenant governor twice before, in 1990 and 1994 (I ran the campaign that beat the last one), California Democrats have never done so. Two credible women ran for the Democratic nomination for the post in 2006, state Sens. Jackie Speier and Liz Figueroa, but split the vote and John Garamendi narrowly won the primary.

Second, Hahn would be the first woman lieutenant governor of the Golden State. In the entire history of California, only six women have ever served in statewide elected office. Between 2002 and ’06, there were none in state offices. Ironically, given how we Democrats like to think of ourselves as the party of choice for women, the first woman ever to hold statewide office was a Republican, not a Democrat – Ivy Baker Priest, elected treasurer in the 1966 Reagan sweep.

Third, Hahn hails from vote-rich Southern California, where nearly half the vote will come from in the general election. The Hahn name in L.A. County is akin to the Brown name statewide, with Hahn’s father having served as a legendary county supervisor, her brother as controller, city attorney and mayor of Los Angeles, and her uncle as a state assemblyman. Hahn herself has been a councilwoman in our largest city since 2001. Depending on how the other primary races go, the Democratic ticket this year could end up consisting mostly of Northern Californians.

Fourth, if Whitman is the GOP gubernatorial candidate, and particularly as a socially moderate woman, Democrats would be foolish not to take into account the fact that a sizeable share of swing voters – especially moderate Democratic, and Democratic-leaning independent, women – will be tempted to vote for what would be the first woman governor of the largest state. And with $1.1 billion in her purse, Whitman will have no limit of resources with which to try to appeal to and poach those voters. Having a woman in the second ballot slot helps our appeal to those women voters.

Fifth, Hahn is an energetic, articulate and aggressive campaigner who actually wants the job. While he was running for governor, Newsom spent months dissing the position of lieutenant governor, admitting he didn’t have a clue what the lieutenant governor did and questioning the very need for the office. Oh, not to mention categorically denying in print and on radio and TV that he would ever run for the post.

When he filed right at last Friday’s deadline, he essentially said others had talked him into running. Voters can smell ambivalence and lack of commitment in a candidate from a mile away. And let’s face it, Newsom already conked out of one race in this cycle, after pledging right up to the end that he absolutely would not do so.

As we head toward the June primary in less than three months, Democrats need to ponder what sort of ticket we will present to the voters in the fall, in what is shaping up as a very difficult Democratic year – and with unprecedented money arrayed against us.

Janice Hahn will help balance our ticket in a variety of ways. You go, girl!

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Veteran Democratic consultant Garry South is chief strategist for Janice Hahn’s campaign for lieutenant governor. He ran Gray Davis’s campaign for the same office in 1994. He also was senior advisor to Gavin Newsom’s gubernatorial campaign.