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California, LA County Taking On A Bigger Role In Progressive Politics

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Nithya Raman attends Hollywood's Change Makers on March 12, 2019 in Los Angeles. (Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for Marie Claire)
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Looking back 25 years, L.A. County was more conservative than the rest of the state. The San Francisco Bay Area was the home of liberalism, according to Raphael Sonenshein, executive director of the Pat Brown Institute of Public Affairs at Cal State Los Angeles.

Now that's completely changed.

"I think Southern California now is the heart of progressive politics — not just in California, but to some degree, in the whole country," Sonenshein told KPCC's AirTalk. "L.A. County is now to the left of the rest of the state, and that is such a sea change in the history of California, that it's hard not to notice it."

Sonenshein cited L.A.'s Fourth District City Council race drawing national attention, with Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton making opposing endorsements — Sanders for Nithya Raman, Clinton for incumbent David Ryu.

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Some of the factors that went into this, according to Sonenshein: the rise of organized labor, the Latino community, a younger and more liberal constituency, and moving city elections to even-numbered years.

"California was always a part of the Republican Party nationally, but never for the Democrats — California was the ATM machine that you come to to raise campaign money. Now there's a Californian on the Democratic ticket," Sonenshein said.

He added that Kamala Harris has been living in Los Angeles, and noted that both Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton had visited. Sanders endorsed a slate of candidates in Los Angeles including George Gascón and Holly Mitchell.

"It is now seen that you have to get involved in L.A. politics to be involved in national Democratic politics," Sonenshein said. "Whatever happens in the national race, California is now a major player in Democratic politics like it never [has been]."

Mitchell, running against incumbent Herb Wesson for an L.A. County Supervisor seat, is winning by a significant margin.

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"It's a sign of the evolving politics of L.A. There's a younger, multiracial constituency of social justice advocates that is very much influenced by young women activists," Sonenshein said.

If Mitchell is elected, the County supervisors will be all women. It's shifted from a time when there would be maybe one woman on the Board of Supervisors, with the board also becoming more liberal.

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