Monday, January 20, 2020




          So…, as Elizabeth Warren would start out, the Democrats held a presidential primary debate in California, in the Westchester district of Los Angeles to be specific. And still California issues get virtually no attention on the national scene.

          Even now, more than a month after that debate, with ballots appearing soon in mailboxes across the state, there’s still no substantial talk about California issues except from late-coming candidate Michael Bloomberg, the former New York mayor.

          Nothing much on homelessness; no creative ideas from any candidate – or from President Trump, for that matter. Nothing much on wildfire safety, other than condemnations of big privately owned utilities like Pacific Gas & Electric and Southern California Edison. No easy-to-follow formulas for buying them up and splitting them into local pieces.

          Nothing on offshore oil drilling or fracking; certainly no hints on fighting off Trump administration efforts to expand both in California. Nothing on how to solve the state’s massive housing shortage and affordability crisis. Nothing on charter schools or Trump-spurred threats to national parks and monuments.

          Not a word on water or the bullet train, which will go nowhere without more federal funding.

          What’s wrong here?

          If there’s any real answer to the lack of attention to this one state that will choose far more Democratic nominating convention delegates than any other both in the March 3 Super Tuesday voting and during the entire primary season, it may lie in the way Democrats apportion delegates.

          While Republicans employ a winner-take-all system giving almost all of every state’s delegates to whoever gets the most votes in a primary or caucus, even if that candidate only wins a plurality, Democrats employ proportional representation.

          So no one running in California’s primary – basically separate elections in each of 53 congressional districts – will get the full pot of 495 delegates. Each district will annoint anywhere from 4 to 7 delegates, split among candidates who get at least 15 percent of the vote in a district. Another 114 delegates go mainly to the overall statewide winner.

          If all California’s Democratic delegates went to that overall winner rather than getting splintered, maybe the likes of Sens. Warren and Bernard Sanders, ex-Vice President Joe Biden and former Mayors Bloomberg and Pete Buttegieg would be forced to learn about the many issues now shaping lives in California.

          But today’s Democratic system doesn’t require this from them. Yes, they’ve become conversant with local candidates and issues in Iowa and New Hampshire, where the earliest votes and caucuses might provide momentum going into Super Tuesday states like California and Texas.

          The Democrats crafted their system almost 20 years ago. They wanted to prevent anyone from getting all California’s delegates – or any other state’s – with a mere 25 percent or so of the votes but still beating out competitors who finish barely a percent or two behind in the total vote.

          That leaves candidates open to damaging gaffes, like Sanders’ now-revoked endorsement of a far-left candidate in the race to replace Democratic Rep. Katie Hill in the 25th Congressional District stretching from Simi Valley into the High Desert of Los Angeles County. Yes, Cenk Uygur agreed with Sanders on most things, but the podcaster and former conservative has a history of homophobic and sexist rants.


          Sanders’ California staff advised him not to endorse, but he did anyway and ran into a buzz saw, then withdrew the endorsement after barely a day. Would this have happened if Sanders had studied California issues and knew how strong the LGBT and feminist movements are here?


          Instead, Sanders, like every other national candidate this year except Bloomberg, has viewed California almost entirely as a cash register, some candidates – like Buttegieg – even going to great lengths to conceal the luxury of several fund-raising venues.


          Will this all add up to yet another failed effort to give California more influence in choosing presidents by moving the primary ahead from its traditional June date? It’s too early to tell. For one thing, Bloomberg is concentrating time and money here heavily, hoping to make up for his late start by doing well here. Plus, if the very early small-state primaries yield contradictory results, California can still be a bellwether.


    Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit

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