Essential Politics: ‘We have to make people imagine that Black people can win’


One of the first things I did when I joined The Times to cover Congress was reach out to every member of the California delegation. With 53 congressional districts — soon to be 52 after the latest round of redistricting — and two Senate seats, it was quite time-consuming.

That outreach led to being added to press lists, getting coffees with dozens of key staffers and securing some sit-downs with members in their offices. But what I also came away with was the realization that there are zero Black men representing the Golden State in Congress.

Welcome to today’s Essential Politics newsletter. I’m Nolan D. McCaskill, a congressional reporter who will be filling you in on this void.


Straight Outta Congress

Before Gov. Gavin Newsom appointed Alex Padilla to the Senate in January, Black women in California and across the country were sounding the alarm that there would be no Black women in the Senate if the seat of Kamala Harris, who at the time was vice president-elect, wasn’t filled by another Black woman.

It’s been less than a year since the Senate has had a Black woman on its roster, though Harris, who as vice president also serves as president of the Senate, has cast 11 tiebreaking votes in the upper chamber this year. Black women in California are still hopeful someone like Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Oakland) could eventually succeed Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), but there’s an even deeper absence in Congress, one that’s in its third decade.

It has been more than 20 years since a Black man represented California in Congress. The last? Rep. Julian Carey Dixon (D-Los Angeles), who died of a heart attack in December 2000 after winning reelection a month earlier.

Collective PAC, which supports Black candidates in an effort to achieve representation that matches the population, has endorsed four Black men in California this cycle: Dr. Kermit Jones (CA-04), Lourin Hubbard (CA-22), John Quaye Quartey (CA-25) and Brandon Mosley (CA-42).

Jones, a former Navy flight surgeon, more than doubled incumbent Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Elk Grove) in third-quarter fundraising, despite raising money only since Aug. 2, when he filed his statement of candidacy with the Federal Election Commission. Though Jones raised more — $314,000 vs. $142,000 — McClintock entered October with $90,000 more in the bank.

Quartey raised more than $250,000 between July and September, but incumbent Rep. Mike Garcia (R-Santa Clarita) brought in a million-dollar haul during the same time frame. Democrat Christy Smith, the former state assemblywoman who lost a special election runoff and general election race to Garcia in 2020, is running a third time. Smith raised less than Quartey this quarter but has more cash on hand.

Neither district has a large Black population: Garcia’s is 8% Black (and 42% Hispanic), and McClintock’s is 1% Black (and 15% Hispanic). Still, there’s been a trend in recent years of Black candidates proving they can win in districts that aren’t majority-Black or majority-minority.

“I think what we’re seeing is that these Black men are running in places where we don’t typically see Black candidates stepping up and stepping out to run,” said Quentin James, founder and president of Collective PAC. “Typically, you think about Oakland, you think about L.A., but there’s so many other districts across California that are diverse, that could use great leadership.”

The list of recent Black candidates winning majority-white districts includes Reps. Lauren Underwood (D-Ill.), whose district is 3% Black; Antonio Delgado (D-N.Y.), whose district is 4% Black; Jahana Hayes (D-Conn.), whose district is 7% Black; and Joe Neguse (D-Colo.), whose district is 1% Black.

“We’re excited to see so many candidates of color, including Black men, running for Congress across the map,” said Chris Taylor, a Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokesperson.

Some of the districts with the highest percentage of Black constituents have long been represented by a trio of Black women: Reps. Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles), Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles) and Lee. Rep. Nanette Barragán (D-San Pedro) also represents a district with a large share of Black residents.

Ludovic Blain, executive director of the California Donor Table, pinpointed San Diego, Orange County and the Inland Empire as “emerging places of color,” where people of color have long been or are moving to due to gentrification in cities like San Francisco, Oakland and L.A.

“We’re going to have fewer Barbara Lees, Maxine Waterses and Karen Basses on the coast, compared to more folks getting elected inland and outside of L.A. and the Bay Area,” Blain said.


James said Collective PAC supports candidates through political contributions ($5,000 for primaries and $5,000 if candidates make it to the general election), fundraising and training. But challenges remain, especially in a redistricting cycle, particularly one with severe delays due to the pandemic.

No one knows exactly what the districts in California will look like for next year’s races. President Biden in 2020 won Garcia’s district, where the Republican’s margin of victory over Smith was some 300 votes. Cook Political Report rates Garcia’s district as one of the most at risk in redistricting. McClintock’s district is rated as a slight risk.

“It has been very tough,” James said, speaking to the difficulties of recruiting candidates for districts that haven’t been drawn yet. “Right now, I think a lot of folks are jumping out there without knowing who their voters will be.”

An additional barrier, James said, is sometimes having to overcome the established Democratic organizations like the DCCC, House Democrats’ campaign arm. But those relationships have improved as Collective PAC has become more established itself.

“There are times … where we kind of have to step out there and really make space for these folks, because if you don’t know who’s at the DCCC, you don’t have a senior member of the [Congressional Black Caucus] fighting for you in those circles, you sometimes get locked out,” he said. “It’s our job, again, to make space, open up those doors, for you to even be considered. We have to make people imagine that Black people can win, like — Black men can serve in Congress in California. It sounds silly, but it’s a real thing.”

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Still reconciling

President Biden returned to the White House early Wednesday morning from travel abroad. But there was no infrastructure or social spending bill on his desk awaiting a signature. Democrats are still finalizing negotiations over the president’s $1.85-trillion framework in the hopes of holding a vote this week.

Part of the urgency is the congressional calendar. Members are scheduled to be back in their districts for Veterans Day recess next week before returning the week of Nov. 15 and then leaving again for a Thanksgiving-week recess. But as the holiday nears, so does Dec. 3, when Congress will run into deadlines on government funding, the debt ceiling and surface transportation funding.

One bright spot for Democrats? They said they reached a deal Tuesday on an agreement to allow Medicare to negotiate prices on a limited number of prescription drugs.

“Like the social spending bill on the whole,” Jennifer Haberkorn reports, “the revised Medicare negotiation plan would be dramatically more limited in scope than what many progressive Democrats had hoped for.”

Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said the plan had support from Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), a key holdout on the spending bill.

According to Jen’s reporting, the plan is expected to:

  • Allow Medicare to negotiate prices for prescription drugs, including insulin, in certain situations
  • Put a $2,000 cap on out-of-pocket drug costs for seniors
  • Include a cap on price increases.

Democrats, however, are still seeking agreement over policy issues like climate and immigration.

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The view from Washington

— Vice President Harris is Washington’s reigning roundtable knight, Noah Bierman writes, noting that she has held at least 27 such events since taking office in January. Noah details how a brief brush with Harris changed a wigmaker’s life.

— President Biden’s Build Back Better framework excluded provisions that would have provided access to paid family and sick leave. Erin B. Logan explains why the policy is not in the bill and whether it could be revived.

— The Biden administration announced plans Tuesday to crack down on methane emissions. The proposed rule could have a major effect on California, Anna M. Phillips reports.

— Melanie Mason has four takeaways from Republican Glenn Youngkin’s win in the Virginia gubernatorial race.

The view from California

— A confluence of factors is prompting fears that Rep. Karen Bass’ redrawn congressional district will no longer be represented by a Black American, Seema Mehta reports.

— Democrats have work to do to win over Latino voters, Rep. Tony Cárdenas (San Fernando Valley) tells Mark Z. Barabak in his latest column.

Karly Katona, Los Angeles City Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas’ chief of staff, was appointed as caretaker of his district, a spokeswoman for City Council President Nury Martinez said. Katona will oversee the district after the City Council stripped Ridley-Thomas of his duties, but she won’t be a council member or have voting powers, per Dakota Smith.

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