‘Et tu, Brute’: The Racist Double Standard in LA County Politics (OPINION)

Apr 10, 2020
3:28 PM

LA County Sheriff Alex Villanueva

LOS ANGELES — At the end of March, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors removed LA County Sheriff Alex Villanueva as the head of LA County’s emergency response efforts. The Board and the Sheriff have clashed since Villanueva became the first Latino sheriff in over 100 years and the first Democratic sheriff in almost 140 years.

The Board claims the removal was a long overdue upgrade of antiquated emergency rules. Sheriff Villanueva disagreed and accused the board of a power grab and political grandstanding. What is less obvious is his removal represented the first shot from the board at defeating the Sheriff in his next election and a petty public political assassination worthy of even Brutus’ admiration.

But the feud between the Board and the Sheriff also demonstrates a racist double standard.

Take for example the previous LA County disaster—the March primary election. Before the coronavirus crisis, the county was focused on explaining to voters how after 10 years and $280 million to modernizing voting in LA County, this past primary election was marred in long lines, failed technology, not enough voting locations, and inadequate staffing. All errors that clearly suppressed voting and created great frustration. Yet there were no cries to fire or remove Dean Logan, the appointed LA County Clerk. Logan was given a minor public chastising. Yet Villanueva was removed as head of emergency operations with no explanation, and during a crisis. Why such disparate treatment?

While not life threatening, the failure to ease and increase voting in LA County is nonetheless important. It is clear that the voting mishaps reduced the number of people who voted may have impacted the outcomes of some close races. Multiple vote centers had long lines of voters who waited as much as three hours to vote. Many press reports covered voters scrambling between voting centers looking for a shorter lines or just giving up. Even worse, studies have shown that news reports of long lines to vote discourage others from voting.

Unfortunately, the mishaps in voting all were preventable. There were technical issues with as many os 20% of voting tablets failing. There were low internet speeds that forced poll workers to revert to paper provisional ballots. Then there is the usual reports of confusion, under staffing, and lack of preparation. Regardless of all those election day errors, the lack of early voting was inevitably going to cause election day overcrowding. But it is the County Clerk’s office’s job to figure this out and 10 years and $280 million helps, right?

On the other hand, Villanueva seems to have had a pretty good first year for a newcomer and political maverick. Sure, Villanueva made some mistakes and he paid dearly for them in the press and with the board. But by most accounts, contract cities, residents, community leaders and more are happy with Villanueva’s job. In his one-year report, Villanueva reported a drop in crime, a high drop in violent crime, over two dozen community meetings, a better financial situation, an increase in both hiring and retention, the end of close ties to ICE, a drop in jail violence and the beginning of the implementation of bottlenecked and resisted body cameras. Imagine what Villanueva might accomplish say in the next day 10 years and with an additional $280 million? Wouldn’t that be cool and fair? Yet no praises from the Board and little mention in the press. That is because Villanueva is not in the club of LA County’s White Democratic elite establishment nor on the list of acceptable people of color.

It is a double standard in Democratic circles of power. People of color must be accountable and produce now. They must listen and know the order of things. White bureaucrats, and political elites are refined, get better with time, and like Adam Schiff, are trustworthy, newsworthy, in it for the long haul, and in it for the ‘right reasons.’

But there is more than a double standard going on. The establishment is the establishment because it crushes mavericks and unpredictable outside forces. Villanueva takes a political hit, while Logan is given a chance to redeem himself. Villanueva is given negative press headlines that can later be used against him.

Ironically, Logan’s supposed screw-up actually helps the Board attack Villanueva. Rather than expand voting, was LA County and others focused on voting reforms to make voting more convenient and a better experience for those that already vote? Voters who tend to be white, more conservative, older, and middle class. Just look at the changes and who is more likely to benefit and which voters were ignored.

What was new? Expanded vote centers for early voting.

Who votes early?  Mostly suburban and white voters.

What is gone? Election Day poll locations.

Who is more likely to vote on Election Day?  Mostly the working class and poor people of color.

In today’s day and age, there are practical ways to increase both voting and voting experience. For example, putting voting kiosks and staff for 10 days at ethnic grocery stores like El Super, also in malls, in elementary schools, churches, and pop-up voting centers at swap meets, concerts and sporting events. These are tactics that would have increased voter participation by hundreds of thousands, especially among working people and people of color. But that was not the goal for the LA County Clerk’s office, at least I am arguing it was not.

This catering to middle class voters is why diverse communities in LA are represented by middle class, white, moderate establishment politicians. I propose that Logan was chastised lightly for the long lines, but not for his approach. Logan preserved the political majority of voters who think like, look like, live like, and like people like Dean Logan—the CEO, COO, CFO, and senior management of LA County. Meanwhile, Villanueva must feel the blade of Brutus and others for not deferring with the lords when deciding how to distribute masks, gloves, and worse make irrational and emotional decisions (as people of color are prone to do) such as shutting down gun stores as panicked citizens, many of whom have never fired a firearm, stockpile guns and ammo during a pandemic.

The truth is it is their ‘party’ and it always has been—$280 million and 10 years to get my tías and siblings to vote? Nah.

But $280 million to put tablets at the Ace hotel downtown? Awesome!

And they still screwed it up.

Villanueva is not perfect but seems to be doing just fine, but resistant to the powers that be. So, Villanueva must be taken down in public so the lords can use it against him in the next election?

Cassius and Brutus would be so proud.


Javier González is the founder and principal of Tell That Story. He has over 20 years of experience in labor, community and political organizing. You can follow Javier on Twitter @javgonz.