Every election produces its post-mortems, and 2018 will be no exception. The election of first-time candidate Katie Hill over the seasoned Steve Knight will be analyzed by legions of consultants eager to mine the golden nuggets of her historic win.
Much has already been discussed about the election being about Donald Trump. Certainly Donald Trump was on the ballot in everyone’s minds, and the opportunity to register one’s disapproval with Trump was extremely motivating to many voters.
However, Trump had greatly motivated his base for these elections, and the 25th Congressional District has historically been a very conservative district. Some will argue that the district’s demographics have skewed to the Democrats. And while that is undoubtedly true, I remind you that eight years ago Buck McKeon was re-elected with 62 percent of the vote. Four years ago the Democrats were so inept that Steve Knight won this seat by defeating another Republican. A scant two years ago, with the district voting for Hillary Clinton, Knight was re-elected with 53 percent of the vote. So, while demographics have evolved, I do not believe these in and of themselves led to Knight’s defeat.
May I offer another theory, and it’s hardly a radical one. In fact, any high school civics class will tell you this. The founding fathers, those folks we pay such reverence to that we don’t even really bother to study them anymore, envisioned a bicameral legislature. The Senate would be the deep-thinking, long-view chamber. With six-year terms, staggered so only one-third was up for election at any one time, they were supposed to be divorced from the passions of the day. Most people forget that, as originally conceived, senators weren’t even directly elected by the people. They were truly supposed to be a deliberative body, and many of today’s Senate rules were developed to enhance that reflective process and (hard to believe) build consensus.
The House, on the other hand, was designed to respond to the passions of the day. The districts were much smaller, elections by direct ballot, and every two years the entire body runs. Congressmen were geared to represent the much more limited confines of these small districts. And whoa to the representative who forgets whom he/she represents.
This, I believe, is where Knight failed. And it cost him an election in a district that still is fundamentally sympathetic to his politics. However, unfortunately for him, the district was not sympathetic to his votes. I offer up three to illustrate:
Nothing had galvanized the Republican base more than the Affordable Care Act. Its passage inflamed and energized the GOP, and the rode the Obamacare pony to great electoral success. However, they went a bridge too far.
Quite simply, for all its flaws and shortcomings, the ACA addressed the very real health care crisis we have in this country. Hating Barack Obama and his signature legislation does not change the fact that millions of our citizens face ruinous consequences of not being able to afford health care. As long as President Obama was in office, the Republicans in Congress could gleefully vote for its repeal. They got all the benefits of exciting their base, without any consequences for having to answer the next logical question, “What are you going to do about health care? If what you had before was unacceptable (and it was) then what is your replacement option?”
The Republicans never developed one (still haven’t). In Knight’s district there are a lot of constituents who benefited from ACA and Knight’s vote against it was a direct assault. And, not all of them are Democrats.
Second, the tax cut that squeezed through the House (with Knight’s vote being crucial) was bad for his district. You can argue all you want about the relative merits, or demerits, of the law — it was bad for his district. In a debate with Katie Hill, he argued that the law would benefit people making under $100,000 a year, of which there are many in the 25th district. But as Hill rather adroitly pointed out, the law penalized Californians making over $100,000, and there are a lot of those in his district. The inescapable fact is, the tax law, as written, penalized people in states like California, New Jersey and New York. However, unlike the congressmen from the latter two states, the Republican California congressmen provided the critical votes for its passage, with these penalties intact.
Again, you can argue the relative pluses and minuses at a national level of the bill, but it hurts many of Knight’s constituents.
Finally, gun control. Knight has received the National Rifle Association’s highest “A” rating, and he championed a concealed-carry law. I am sure there are many folks in his district who applauded that. However, the March for Our Lives protest, in this city, showed the depths of fury toward gun violence. I am not going to guess at the number of people who took part in the Santa Clarita march, but there were a whole lot of them.
Belatedly, Knight attempted to pivot and declared he would not cash the latest NRA check. This pronouncement was pure pandering, did nothing to placate the left in his district about gun control, and only infuriated those on the right with what they saw as a sellout to liberals. In the end, the NRA check was an empty gesture that did nothing for him on either side of the issue in instead demonstrated weakness and vacillation.
The 25th District has evolved from strong red to purple. To navigate these changing demographics (and changing voter priorities) required Knight to deviate from the top-down national partisan bloc of current Republican orthodoxy. His votes on these three issues precluded him from making inroads with Democrats, while effectively antagonizing just enough Republicans to provide Katie Hill — who, let’s be honest, ran a very smart campaign — with the margin she needed to win.
Lynn R. Wright is a Valencia resident.