Island in the Land

I vote at the Presbyterian Church in Pasadena. Normally I breeze into the church’s big, comfortable, high-ceilinged, wood-paneled main hall, check in at the orange table representing my precinct, and get handed a computer card that is then put into a holder inside the voting booth and ink-marked when I punch my preferences.

But on voting day this year, I came in through the church’s arched stone entrance and saw more than 100 people in line, wrapping all the way around the church courtyard. Going to the back of the line, a couple Fuller Seminary students, who go to school across the street, came in behind me. They joked about drinking beer all afternoon to watch the results roll in, and said they were in favor of the marijuana initiative.

A female student who joined them said, “Let’s get the tax money.”

The line moved quickly and I was soon out on the sidewalk with an “I voted” sticker. Later in the afternoon, I returned as a reporter to interview people on the same sidewalk for our news coverage.

A 29-year-old woman, Janice MacMurray, said she voted for the Green candidate. “We live in the environment and we need it to continue to support us, so we need to support it.”

She voted yes on a measure to allow California to pay the same rate the Veteran’s Administration pays for drugs. Ads with Bernie Sanders endorsing the measure ran frequently on news broadcasts before the election.

Very much with child as she spoke, MacMurray said she works as a personal assistant. She returned to Pasadena after a long stint in Australia and is now married to an Australian. She said the whole healthcare process was simple and easy in Australia.

“If you need a prescription, a doctor, any medical procedure, it’s simple, it’s not hard. Here, it’s confusing. It’s so hard.”

She said Australians had the choice of private care if they wanted to pay out of pocket. But she used the example of her mother-in-law who had just had a knee replacement through the public health system, more quickly than she would have through a private clinic.

“It’s a better system than we have here, for sure.”

The proposition that would have lowered prescription drug costs was buried under an avalanche of counter-advertising from 10 drug companies, spending $106 million compared to $9 million by the proponents.

Another voter coming out of the church was a trim older woman with stylishly short white hair and a black dress. Because she worked in a high-profile position for a museum in the area, she gave her name only as Janet. She leaned towards me and said with an expression of shock and opprobrium, “I didn’t realize we had this many racists in our country.”

Another voter was Leslie Hawkins, an English teacher at a high school in an affluent area of Whittier, President Nixon’s birthplace. She said Trump is “more likely to lead to instability.”

The 11th and 12th graders that she teaches were much more engaged than in past elections, she said. “The Trump supporters tend to be more vocal.”

The high school had conducted a mock election that day, with the results announced over the PA system. Hawkins was surprised that only 26 percent of the students had voted. But they reflected the ultimate results in California, favoring the Democratic candidate by 20 percent.

The Pasadena voters interviewed outside the church had punched their ballots against Trump by a wide margin. One woman said she voted for him but without enthusiasm, while one voted Green and one voted  Libertarian.

When I used to work as a freelance journalist, writing stories primarily for newspapers in the East and South, the principal reason I did well in a slot where very few can survive was by pitching stories premised on California as the great exception as well as the forerunner of what was to come in the nation as a whole.

California has a powerful economy and has successfully integrated a true kaleidoscope of immigrants into its highly adaptable engine of growth. I was talking with our L.A. reporter and we noted that, of the four new judges elected in this county of 10 million, two were Asian and two were Hispanic. The two white men lost.

Whether California retains its role as predicter, foreshadower of the nation’s course is shrouded in uncertainty. The golden state could now be like a divining rod that lost its magic or the slow turn of history could confirm its traditional Delphic power as oracle to a changing republic.

%d bloggers like this: