California’s Super Tuesday: Gaza ceasefire and homelessness take center stage
Barbara Lee, a leading progressive, is one of the major candidates for U.S. Senate in California. The principled lawmaker gained notoriety for being the only member of Congress who voted against the George Bush request for authorization to go to war against Iraq. She is the strongest supporter of a ceasefire in Gaza among the candidates now running for Senate in California. | Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call

LOS ANGELES – California, the country’s most populated state, will be part of the fray of Super Tuesday on March 5. The date is significant, nationally, because it is when most states hold their presidential primaries and caucuses.

Fifteen states and one U.S. territory will have all eyes on them as the outcome of their races will provide a vibe check on the future of democracy in the United States, influencing who will be the presidential candidates come November.

After years of taking place in June, the California primaries were moved to March after the 2017 Prime Time Primary Act was enacted in 2020. The shift was to give California more influence over the selection of presidential candidates. While there are a variety of candidates and measures to choose from, there are some key races that have garnered significant attention.

Perhaps the most obvious is the presidential race. Former president and four-times indicted citizen Donald Trump has continued to face off with his opponent, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, for the Republican nomination. Although Trump has beaten Haley in several states, the former governor has stated that she plans to remain in the running. In most states so far she has garnered about 40 percent of the vote and in Michigan 25 percent. Most analysts say Trump cannot afford to lose much more than five percent of the Republican vote if he is to win in November.

Trump, for his part, is angling for a second term after years of denying the 2020 presidential election results and facing a slew of criminal and civil trials. Continuing to advocate for being above the law, Trump has convinced the Supreme Court to consider his immunity claim, which will further delay many of his trials but especially threatens to nullify the coup trial prosecuted by Special Counsel Jack Smith.

While there are eight official presidential candidates for the Democrats, it would appear that President Joe Biden will remain the front-runner. Yet, hot-button issues—such as the Israeli war on Gaza—are inciting many voters to want to express their disdain with what they feel is Biden and his administration’s uncritical support for the Netanyahu government and what they see as the genocide committed by Israel in Gaza. Although Biden has voiced concern for the massive suffering of Gazans they point out that he has not cut U.S. military support to Israel which is using U.S. weapons to kill Palestinians.

There has been a growing demand for an immediate ceasefire. So much so that in Michigan’s primaries on February 27, tens of thousands of voters went to the polls and cast their votes for “Uncommitted,” the option endorsed by a coalition demanding that Biden come out for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza. Thousands of voters took this route as a protest vote instead of voting for Biden in the Democratic primary.

It remains to be seen if a similar action will occur in California. Still, according to CalMatters,  leaders with the Council on American-Islamic Relations call for Democratic voters to leave the presidential race blank and vote in other contests to send a message to the Biden administration.

The U.S. Senate race

The only state-wide race other than the presidential primary in California is for the late Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s seat in Washington. The U.S. Senate race has a number of candidates vying for not only the remainder of Feinstein’s term but also for the full six-year term to follow.

This is why California voters will be voting twice concerning these candidates. Yet, depending on how the numbers play out, a third vote for the seat in November may be necessary.

While over a dozen official candidates are on the ballot, four front-runners have emerged leading up to the primaries. Democrats Rep. Adam Schiff, Rep. Katie Porter, and Rep. Barbara Lee, alongside Republican Steve Garvey, have emerged as the ones to watch.

Garvey, a Republican and former professional baseball player, has never held a political office. And while he is faring a little bit above Lee in some recent polls for third place, it should be noted that a Republican hasn’t won a state-wide election in California since 2006. It should also be noted that Garvey has admitted to voting for Trump twice.

It would seem that if he were to beat the odds and become one of the two candidates who get the most votes this Tuesday, winning against a Democrat in November may be a futile effort—seeing as how Republicans only make up an estimated 24% of registered voters in the state.

Still, because of California’s Top Two Candidates Open Primary Act—where all candidates for voter-nominated offices are listed on one ballot and only the top two who get the most votes in the primary election, regardless of party preference, move on to the general election—there is a slight chance that the non-progressive Trump-voting Garvey may be on the ballot in November.

Regarding the Democrats, the differences between the candidates require a closer look.

According to a recent ProPublica analysis, Porter and Lee agreed on 96% of congressional votes, while Porter and Schiff decided the same on 98%, and Lee and Schiff agreed on 97%. For example, all three candidates have similar sentiments regarding immigration reform and protection. They have all supported bills to provide better pathways to citizenship and limit the president’s ability to restrict undocumented immigrant entries.

With these similarities, voters can see sharp distinctions between the candidates regarding Gaza and foreign policy in general.

Lee, out of all three Democrats, has been calling for a ceasefire in Gaza from the beginning. She also opposes more “unconditional” weapons sales to Israel. In a written statement, Lee noted that “a conditional ceasefire is not a ceasefire at all” and that “a true ceasefire is not only possible, but it is the most effective and humane path forward.” She highlighted, “That’s why, since the beginning, I’ve demanded an immediate and permanent ceasefire to save lives, bring the hostages home, and promote lasting security and peace for Israelis and Palestinians.”

This stance aligns with Lee’s past actions, such as her historic act of being the lone vote against authorizing the use of force by the United States after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Porter, on the other hand, had a more muted initial response. She said in a statement in December that she wanted to see Israel “working toward a lasting bilateral ceasefire in Gaza.”

Schiff, for his part, supports the continued U.S. aid to the Israeli military. In a recent interview with the Jewish News Syndicate, Schiff stated that he could not see “how people can call on Israel to permanently ceasefire while a terrorist organization is controlling Gaza and threatening to attack them in the manner of Oct. 7 over and over and over again.”

Considering the growing demand across the country for Biden to be more direct regarding a ceasefire in Gaza, front-runner Schiff’s stance would seem out of sync with an increasing number of voters. This stance may be a deciding factor regarding the number of voters who turn out to cast a ballot on Tuesday.

Newsom has a mental health overhaul plan

Gov. Gavin Newsom has been campaigning for voters to approve a ballot initiative that is aimed at dealing with the state’s homelessness crisis and mental health system. Proposition 1 would shift much of the funds from California’s millionaires tax—the 2004 approved Mental Health Services Act (MHSA)—for mental health services towards housing people who have mental illness. Newsom aims to give the state more control over how this money is spent.

In a public statement, the governor’s office said that the measure would be a “major overhaul to California’s mental health funding system and [the] $6.4 billion bond will expand access for hundreds of thousands of Californians, fund substance abuse treatment, and help get those suffering from mental health crises off the streets and into care.” The measure is said to improve several elements in the mental health care system, including providing treatment over incarceration, addressing the shortage of mental health workers, and building supportive housing.

The measure is supported by many individuals and groups, including Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass, the California Teachers Association (CTA), Service Employees International Union California (SEIU), the California Labor Federation, and the National Alliance on Mental Illness California.

While many positive improvements are listed in the measure, several opponents to the bill are coming forward, saying that it may do more harm than good.

Two of the main arguments against the measure is that it diverts funding—an estimated $720 million—from county governments providing aid to residents. They would be forced to reallocate that money towards prioritizing housing those who are homeless with mental health issues.

The second concern is with the addition to the bill that does not prevent the funds from being given to involuntary treatment facilities. These types of facilities are psychiatric hospitals where someone with a mental illness can be involuntarily detained, usually for up to 72 hours or more. Opponents note that the measure does not specify what percentage of funds must go to locked (involuntary) versus unlocked (voluntary) treatment centers.

Opponents of the bill include organizations such as Disability Rights California, the League of Women Voters of California, Mental Health America of California, and ACLU California Action.

Keeping in mind that the state has a shortage of nearly 8,000 adult psychiatric beds, and at the same time, an estimated 170,000 Californians are unhoused, the need to address the homelessness crisis is a crucial one, making this ballot measure an essential focal point for many.

Despite predictions of a lower voter turnout, California’s upcoming elections will be part of a larger conversation on where the country stands in its fight for democracy as the November presidential election draws near.

For a list of all the races and measures on the ballot in California for March 5, 2024, go here.

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Chauncey K. Robinson
Chauncey K. Robinson

Chauncey K. Robinson is an award winning journalist and film critic. Born and raised in Newark, New Jersey, she has a strong love for storytelling and history. She believes narrative greatly influences the way we see the world, which is why she's all about dissecting and analyzing stories and culture to help inform and empower the people.