Here’s Why Elder Should Be but Isn’t a Bad Joke

The Hutchinson Report Column on Larry Elder will also be my weekly column in the Wave Newspaper, Thursday, August 19

Earl Ofari Hutchinson

Right-wing Black talk jock Larry Elder should be a bad joke but isn’t. The one person who knows that is the man Elder is trying to unseat in the September California governor recall. That’s California Governor Gavin Newsom. He has sent out a flurry of emails attacking Elder and asking for money. 

At first glance, the recall election should be slapstick comedy. The GOP for all practical purposes is close to being a weak-kneed third-party masquerading as a major party in California. It represents less than a quarter of the state’s voters. It is a super-minority in the state legislature. It holds not a single statewide office. It hasn’t elected a US senator in decades. 

In the 2020 presidential election, Trump barely nudged over thirty percent of the state’s vote. But that first glance is dangerously deceptive about the recall and Elder. The recall vote got over two million signatures. Though many were tossed out as invalid, the signatures were not all from right-wing Republicans, there aren’t enough of them in the state for that. 

There were a lot of independents, and Democrats, who signed the petition. They signed for many reasons, claiming to have beefs of one sort or another with Newsom. In fact, the ease with which anti-Newsom opponents got the nearly two million-plus signatures was an early warning signal that there were a lot of Californians, not all right wingnuts, who for a variety of reasons were discontent with or even hostile to Newsom. 

The contentious issues ranged from his tough COVID stance of shutting down California which legions of small businesses vehemently fought with demonstrations and legal challenges. There was his liberal tout of sweeping criminal justice system reforms including a moratorium on the death penalty. There’s his perceived penchant to tax and free spend on Democratic pet concerns. Newsom early on acknowledged that the recall would happen. In an interview or two, he dared muse that he could be an ex-governor. Even California senator Dianne Feinstein quipped “it could go either way.”

So, here’s why Feinstein and Newsom are worried about Elder. Start with the long-standing myth that California is the state that’s the perfect typecast of liberalism and progressivism. Big swaths of Northern, Central, and Eastern California, and that includes pockets in Los Angeles County, are as Deep Red as Alabama. The voters are rock-solid Trumpites, GOP, and proud red blooded, flag waving patriots who rail against liberal stances on everything from police defunding to tax and spend budgets. 

Though the state went reliably Blue in the 2016 presidential election, Trump still bagged millions of votes in the state. He might not have been far off in his boast that if he had seriously campaigned in the state, he could have made it competitive for him and the GOP. California voters by wide margins have repeatedly voted for tough criminal justice measures, including the death penalty, and three strikes, against many tax increase proposals for education and social services, and affirmative action initiatives. 

Recalling liberal Democrats is not an aberration. California Supreme Court Chief Justice Rose Bird was handily recalled and so was California Governor Gray Davis. The issue with Bird was her perceived softness on crime and her progressive stance on criminal justice issues. Arnold Schwarzenegger not only won the recall election for governor but was handily reelected. He carried on the tradition of the state electing conservative GOP song and dance guys, namely Reagan and George Murphy, to governor and US Senator respectively. 

Unlike nearly all the other GOP candidates on the recall ballot, Elder has solid name recognition from his decades as a right-wing gabber on local and national radio and TV talk shows. Being a loud, brash, controversial avowed Black conservative makes him the ideal pitchman for GOP interests to back. Always sensitive to the charge that the GOP is racist, they’ve poured lots of cash into his campaign. There is no real reason to think that thousands of rightists, even racist, whites wouldn’t vote for an Elder if they view him as a Black man that mouths their biases. Elder is a proven master at that game.

There’s also the perception and resentment among many Blacks and Hispanics that state Democrats, including Newsom, take their votes for granted, and do not keep them informed, or engage them on legislation and initiatives. The truth is that Democrats do a poor job of messaging even on their initiatives that do much to aid minorities and the poor. 

Elder and the recall should be yet another wake-up call for the Democrats to take nothing for granted, to not be smug, complacent, and comfortable with their seeming lockdown control of the state’s political machine. That’s the message that Elder for governor in a perverse, back-door way sends, no matter whether Newsom as expected wins. Elder should be but isn’t a bad joke.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is the author of Bring Back the Poll Tax!—The GOP War on Voting Rights (Middle Passage Press)

He is the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KPFK 90.7 FM Los Angeles and the Pacifica Network. His weekly political commentaries can be found at

2 thoughts on “Here’s Why Elder Should Be but Isn’t a Bad Joke”

  1. I was unable get you take this morning on brother
    “Lackey” Elder. But knowing of your trend in speaking with deep insight and understanding regarding political/social issues, I feel sure you were not going for the bamboozle being funded by the neo-con, but wealthy oligarchs, activities to replace Gov. Newsom with Elder, a right wing glove puppet and often supporter of the trump ideology. And, if I’m right, I thank you for it.

  2. Unfortunately there’s more to Californians’ displeasure with Newsom than elites such as us would like to believe. It’s part of the universal disdain so called liberals have for working people so well documented by Piketty’s Capital and Ideology. It’s not about messaging as you put it, it’s about the real grinding poverty and inequality that is hurting and frustrating millions of diverse people in our state. Meanwhile all elites liberal and not are cruel and willfully ignorant to that suffering. Let’s not fool ourselves about California’s progressive self delusion, we’re a very conservative state because the affluent will not sacrifice anything for their less fortunate neighbors. Democrats won’t support universal health care, they’re staunch supporters of local rights that keep millions from getting affordable housing and good education, and California’s water and air are controlled by conservative boards that keep us choking on fumes and running out of water just to keep the insatiable growth machine of warehousing and big ag churning. Newsom personifies liberal elite heartlessness that’s why he will be recalled. And Elder will be elected because of nothing else but the fact that California’s democratic rules and processes favor elite minority rule, liberal or conservative, over the masses of disenfranchised and struggling people which are getting more desperate and restless. That’s the truth.

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