by Ruth Musser-Lopez
In last week’s Sentinel, election data was provided that clearly demonstrates that rural voters in the San Bernardino County’s desert “Dust Belt” or “Joad Belt” (described as route John Steinbeck’s Grape’s of Wrath Joad family took through California toward Bakersfield along the I-40/Hwy 58 beltway), support Republican candidates over Democratic candidates without too much regard as to what they represent (See Rural Elections Report, Sentinel 11/25/16).
In the race between two Republicans for the first district county supervisor position however, issues pertinent to the voters became important. Republican Angela Valles who was endorsed by the Teamsters, presented to Democratics an alternative choice to incumbent Republican Robert Lovingood’s demonstrated standing in opposition to labor’s wage increase efforts.
Nevertheless, Valles may have lost some of those constituent votes in a failed attempt to gain victory by targeting a perceived “isolationist” constituency in her appeal for votes when she led a protest march across the I-15 overpass in Victorville against 25 immigrant Syrian families who were brought in by Catholic charities after 3 years of vetting.
Meanwhile, Lovingood picked up votes from Democratic environmentalists when early in the election cycle he made a motion, voted and influenced two other Supervisors to vote to deny the Soda Mountain Solar project permit, a project that county activist including many Democrats had been militating against for over a year (see August 30, 2016, issue of the Sentinel). David Lamfrom, director of the California Desert and National Wildlife programs for the National Parks Conservation Association, after the hearing told the Sentinel, “His vote opposing the project will definitely cause me to encourage others to vote for him, wouldn’t it you?”
The Sentinel is informed that some among the Teamsters, the union representing the lion’s share of San Bernardino County’s government employees and the employees of some of the cities within the county, were embarrassed by the march led by Valles, whom they had previously endorsed. However, the Teamsters also endorsed other known or perceived isolationists in the county.
Just across the California line from Arizona which remains a red state, Needles, at the far eastern end of the county, remains a Republican stronghold, with a significant number of its population expressing isolationist leanings.
All of the Needles City Council members are Republicans save two, Louise Evans, who is registered in the George Wallace party as an American Independent and newly elected Clayton Hazlewood, who is registered to vote as an “African-American” Democrat. Some have questioned Hazlewood ethnicity claim. Some find significance in Hazlewood having not sought the endorsement of the Democratic Party.
For the 2016 Needles council election, the Teamsters endorsed three candidates, Hazlewood and two Republicans, Tona Belt and Shawn Gudmundsen, for the three open seats on the council. All three of these candidates won in the November election. Gudmundsen overcame the allegation that while on the council he helped himself to a “loan” of city utilities amounting to thousands of dollars that are not available to other rate payers.
The Teamsters represent the City of Needles employees. Its members include city employees who conducted the candidate interviews. The only Democrat the Teamsters endorsed in the Needles contest was Hazlewood, though three other Democrats ran in the November 2016 election.
An explanation for the isolationist attitude along the “Joad Belt” is that the rural descendants of those from the Dust Bowl in the Great Depression era have a collective and learned memory of going without, being unable to make a living and living in fear that an influx of new residents would threaten their livelihood, current standard of living and way of life. A rural approach to producing a living requiring large acreages for farming or one of a kind businesses contrasts with the urban approach where more people means more customers.
On November 8, 2016, at a city council meeting in Needles it was reported during public comments that a very large expensive Hillary sign had been stolen. In response, outgoing councilman Anthony Frazier, Republican, announced that his big Trump sign had been stolen too, evincing a burst of laughter from those in the room who were savvy to the joke that Frazier had no such sign. No action was taken nor was their a voice from the council to admonish thievery.
by Ruth Musser-Lopez