The City earns a mixed report card for the midterm elections

The day after the 2018 midterm elections, my social media feeds and inbox emails registered an unusual spike in exultant messages from the various blocs I found membership in: women, Asian Americans, immigrants, Democrats, Americans, global citizens, earth denizens.

There was much to rejoice over besides November 7 being the day of the energetic and sensitive new moon in Scorpio, the day of Diwali — the most significant Hindu festival, and the day that Bohemian Rhapsody continued to top the daily domestic chart.

America had voted the previous day, and the list of electoral achievements was long and breathtaking. The 2018 midterm elections will send more than 100 women to Congress; the black women’s representation in the House of Representatives got a remarkable fillip; Native Americans, refugees, Muslims, Asians, Latinos, LGBT candidates will round out the heterogeneity in gender, race, sexual orientation and religious affiliations of governing bodies for the next few years.

Asian American performance was hailed as significant by New American Economy (NAE), a coalition of political and business leaders advocating for immigration reform. “All of the 27 districts that have flipped so far that were not newly redistricted saw an increase in the Hispanic and Asian American share of their electorate between 2016 and 2018,” the group’s Nov. 7 press release observed.

Latino voters were lauded for breaking voting records. An additional 4 million Latino voters were added to the rolls since 2014 and they accounted for 11 percent of all voters.

I found that the leading candidates in 20 out of the 25 electoral races in San Francisco were black, Asian, Latino or women. Kudos to San Francisco for advancing its diversity.

In neighboring South San Francisco, for the first time two Filipino Americans Flor Nicolas and Mark Nagales were elected as new members of the City Council. In the small rural and affluent city of Los Altos Hills with a predominantly white voter base, Indian American Kavita Tankha won the City Council elections handily and sent me a text message saying simply, “I won!”

Even losses were exclamatory. Sri Preston Kulkarni, Texas’ 22nd district democratic congressional candidate, came 15,000 votes close to defeating four-time incumbent Pete Olson, in a district where Republicans have consistently held on to their seat for all but two years since 1979. Stacy Abrams’ gubernatorial loss (now being contested) in Georgia was turned into a “we have seen unprecedented turnout in this race!”

Excellent, and congratulations all!

But drowned out by social media’s clamorous proclamations of history makers, we almost forgot what we did not win.

Laudatory headlines, emails and social media feeds merely tell us what we so dearly want to hear. They obliterate what we consider unpleasant. It’s far too easy to reside within the boundaries of our achievements. Where’s the reality in that?

So, let’s take a moment to log out of our accounts and confront what we did not win.

The big one for Democrats was the loss of several Senate races and for Republicans the majority in the House. Steep was the penalty of defeat Democrats suffered in 29 governorship races across the nation. Though perhaps the saving grace was the trouncing of Republican Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker.

Several candidates I was rooting for couldn’t quite muster majorities including Andrew Gillum in Florida, Sri Preston Kulkarni and Beto O’Rourke in Texas, Stacy Abrams in Georgia and Ammar Campa-Nijjar in California.

For Republicans, the Wall Street Journal’s Allen C. Guelzo put it best, “historians 50 years hence may scratch their heads over how a president who enjoyed excellent economic numbers and success in strong-arming foreign allies and foes alike into cooperation should have seen his party punished at the polls.”

Apart from the winners and losers, in San Francisco, there’s another story to tell and that’s about voter engagement.

In the last midterm elections, 231,214 people voted in San Francisco. The 2018 midterm had 100,000 more voters who cast their ballots. While The City had the best midterm turnout, its track record on voting fell far short of the record setting levels of the 2016 elections. True, midterms have a lower turnout than presidential elections. But the disparity was noticeable. According to the San Francisco Department of Elections data, In 2016, 80 percent of those registered came out to vote or sent their ballots in. In 2018, that number plummeted to 67.6 percent.

The City also had 13,000 fewer registered voters in 2018 (500,516) as compared to 2016 (513,573). This is mediocre when compared to neighboring counties San Mateo, which registered an additional 3,250 voters in the last two years, while Santa Clara added 10,000.

San Francisco’s scorecard is a B plus with a B minus for voter engagement and an A for offering up diverse candidates in the 2018 midterm elections.

Jaya Padmanabhan’s column runs biweekly in the SF Examiner. She can be reached at Twitter: @jayapadmanabhan

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