Hatred grows, LA politics goes berserk, and Gen Z saves democracy: columnists dissect 2022

California dried up but didn’t burn down.

LA has a new mayor and a city hall in crisis.

Supporters raise Karen Bass' hands above her head as others surround her in a room covered in portraits and other art.

Then-Rep. Karen Bass, center, with supporters at Tolliver’s Barber Shop in south Los Angeles just before she won the mayoral election.

(Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times)

Gavin Newsom was reelected governor, as expected, and the Democrats avoided a midterm loss, which they didn’t.

As 2022 takes its place in the book of memories, political columnist Mark Z. Barabak looks back on the year with California columnist Anita Chabria. The two even venture a few predictions about what 2023 might bring.

Barabak: So, Anita, apart from the fact that we are both still working, what was your biggest surprise this year?

California Governor Gavin Newsom can be seen on a large outdoor monitor in the evening with an inset image of a person signing.

California Governor Gavin Newsom at a campaign rally in Long Beach in September before easily winning re-election.

(Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times)

Chabria: Honestly, the fact that I get a paycheck for it, every two weeks, amazes me. I can’t wait for the emails to agree with me.

Across the world, I have been shocked by the increase in hate and hate-inspired violence. Across California and across the country, we saw angry, and in some cases armed, conservatives threatening transgender people, protesting access to reproductive care, and attacking educators for teaching about race and diversity. Killers in Colorado and New York targeted victims based on their sexual identity and race.

In California, members of the Proud Boys repeatedly raided drag queen events and a hammer-wielding conspiracy theorist assaulted House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband at her home.

In Los Angeles, a group of anti-Semites stood atop a 405 overpass, saluted the Nazis and held a banner that read “Kanye is right about the Jews.” This ugliness must be remembered, because forgetting is acceptance. That’s my happy start to the new year, and you’re welcome.

What surprised you?

Barabak: Excuse me while I dig a hole and bury myself.

… Well, that’s better.

Seriously, not to put it lightly, there was a lot of terrible things out there. In fact, I wrote a rather somber column on Election Day, speaking to historians and others about how today’s troubling times compare to other somber times in our history. And then, lo and behold, the voters brought us back from the abyss.

In other words, they stood up for democracy and prevented the country from going into a very dark and dangerous place. High-profile candidates who parroted former President Trump’s “big lie” about a stolen 2020 election have been defeated, as have other Trump-backed henchmen who attempted to hijack the electoral machinery in key states to determine the results in 2024 and beyond to manipulate.

A woman waves as she walks across a stage with a red and white background reading "Arizona Republican Party."

Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake was among the high-profile Republican candidates who lost in November after struggling with Trump’s “big lie” and trying to control future elections in key states.

(Gina Ferazzi/Los Angeles Times)

We can’t just sit back and relax — as you note, there’s still an abundance of hate and madness out there — but it’s been comforting.

And to answer your question, for me the biggest surprise was the red wave, which turned out to be more like a puddle.

A president with a lousy approval rating, the worst inflation in decades, voter sentiment so bad it could curdle milk—and the Democrats won a seat in the Senate and narrowly lost control of the House. I know very few who saw this coming.

Your opinion on the midterms?

Chabria: Young people, especially women, are responding to the Roe vs. Wade upheaval by voting gave me a lot of hope.

I think it showed that a generation that has already shown itself to be champions of a greater good by championing issues like climate change and gun safety is now showing its power at the ballot box. Although they don’t vote as heavily as older voters, they are far more likely to be Democrats and progressives at that.

We’ve seen this shift in LA politics, roiled by the racist record of lawmakers plotting ways to share power. Mayor Karen Bass rode this wave of change and beat this billionaire. So did newly elected councilors Eunisses Hernandez and Hugo Soto-Martinez, and City Controller Kenneth Mejia.

But here’s my first prediction, and it’s not quite so wild: Not enough will happen at City Hall until we deal with Councilor Kevin de León. Local politics has become a reality show drowning in distraction as the moral crisis of homelessness and affordable housing continues to mount.

Now all Kevin has to do is date a Kardashian.

Kevin de León sits in a meeting, frowning.

LA Councilman Kevin de León reignited unrest at the city government with his return to the public eye earlier this month.

(Myung J. Chun/Los Angeles Times)

Barabak: Which might be an improvement compared to the antics surrounding LA politics right now. Agreed, the epically self-absorbed De León has to go.

Speaking of embarrassing, it’s been another sad year for California Republicans, who haven’t won statewide office since George W. Bush was in the White House and “Cars” and “The Da Vinci Code” filled theaters. (Streaming was pretty much limited to streams and the like back then.)

The GOP nominated one of its most attractive candidates in years, the superbly qualified Lanhee Chen, and he was still waxing in his candidacy for state controller, falling along with the rest of the Republican list. True, the GOP managed to win a seat in the US House of Representatives in the Central Valley. But the Democrats bolstered their state legislature supremacy, making the party less relevant in Sacramento than ever before.

Let’s face it: California Republicans might as well change their logo to a skull and crossbones. Even before Trump came along, the party had a poisoned image, and he made it exponentially worse.

Here’s a prediction: Forget jobs, inflation and the economy, which voters named as their top concerns when they voted in November. We’re going to hear a lot about Hunter Biden’s laptop and the impeachment of members of the Biden administration thanks to the new Republican House majority, which may or may not be led by Kevin McCarthy of California.

That should play well.

Chabria: It will take place in Kern County, McCarthy’s home territory, and virtual Kern County, known as the new Twitter. In addition to supporting QAnon conspiracies, Elon Musk amplifies far-right talking points and does his best to undermine fact-based journalism. That will charge these Republican circus shows with a powerful platform to spread lies and propaganda unchecked.

It’s sad to see a California company happily dove into misinformation after so many years, at least publicly, showing how to fight it. But next year the house will feature pure extremist performance art, with America as a captive and all too often captivated audience. We should force former Twitter owner Jack Dorsey to see every House hearing as revenge for doing this to us.

Barabak: Crawling back into my hole…

Chabria: Wait! Here’s some good news: California didn’t burn. Whether or not the recent deluge pulled us out of a severe drought, we have escaped the deadly fire season that has seemingly normalized in recent years.

Barabak: OK, feel better.

Chabri: Good. To end on a high note, we take a moment to celebrate those who have inspired us or otherwise earned our respect.

Salute to the state of Sen. Scott Wiener, who has not backed down despite a barrage of death threats. As a gay, Jewish lawmaker dedicated to progressive and often controversial causes, including safe places for drug users, he’s an easy target.

Last week, police responded to a bomb threat at his home (his address was released by haters) following the heinous Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (just unbanned from Twitter) called him a “communist nurse”. In September, a California man was found guilty of threatening Wiener and possessing ghost and assault weapons.

So my unofficial courage award goes to the Democrat from San Francisco for remaining an official despite the literal risk to his life. I don’t always agree with his policies, but the man made his choice.

And I thank Jennifer Siebel Newsom for testifying against Harvey Weinstein. All the women who have testified against him are brave. But California’s first partner didn’t have to. I write a lot about sex crime survivors and I’ve seen the toll it takes on them when their most devastating moments are analyzed by the public. She did it with quiet grace. And as her husband absolutely, positively not running for president, she could prove to be his greatest asset.

And you?

Barabak: I will give Pelosi credit for her non-retirement.

History will remember her as one of our most powerful and important speakers in the House of Representatives; She wouldn’t have made the enemies she had if she wasn’t so effective.

Lawmakers surround Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who raises her fists from a desk with a banner reading, "The Law Respecting Marriage."

Outgoing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco), center, celebrates the inscription of the Respect for Marriage Act last week with supporters of the House and Senate bill from both major parties.

(Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times)

And her January 1, 2021 appearance, revealed in a new documentary by her daughter Alexandra, the filmmaker, shows Pelosi’s great personal bravery and admirable coolness in times of crisis. Not bad for someone who was treated as a lightweight when she first ran for office and reached the age of 50 after raising five children.

Finally, let me thank all readers – even the haters and losers, as Trump would say. (You child!)

Anita and I appreciate you taking the time to read our work and we wish you and your loved ones the very best for the holidays and a happy, healthy New Year.

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