Results in San Francisco Seen as a 'Bellwether'

Ouster of 3 liberal school board members viewed as part of a national trend
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 17, 2022 1:28 PM CST
This Time, San Francisco May Be Political 'Bellwether'
Gabriela Lopez, vice president of the school board, was one of three members recalled.   (Gabrielle Lurie/San Francisco Chronicle via AP)

The recall of three liberal members of the city school board in San Francisco continues to reverberate, and a common theme in analyses is that the vote might be seen as a warning for Democrats nationwide. The shorthand view: Voters, even entrenched Democrats, are pushing back against policies they see as too progressive. A sample of coverage:

  • 'Bellwether': San Francisco is famous for its liberalism, of course, so much so that it's usually seen as an "outlier" in American politics, according to an analysis in the Los Angeles Times. This week's results, however, are being seen by both Democrats and Republicans "not as an outlier but as a potential bellwether," write Seema Mehta, Melanie Mason, and Melissa Gomez. "While it's difficult to draw conclusions from a single election, Democrats in California and across the nation described the recall as a cautionary tale that voters view their party as insufficiently responsive to core concerns like education and safety."
  • Elsewhere: In the New York Times, David Leonhardt also sees the recalls as part of a larger trend in the US. "Many Americans, even in liberal places, seem frustrated by what they consider a leftward lurch from parts of the Democratic Party and its allies," he writes. "This frustration spans several issues, including education, crime, and COVID-19." He cites examples, including Seattle, where voters elected Ann Davison the city's top prosecutor. She'd recently quit the Democratic Party after saying it had moved "so far left."

  • A comparison: While local issues were at play in San Francisco, perhaps the biggest concern was the school board's reluctance to reopen schools even as COVID cases were declining. Amid this controversy, the board focused on renaming schools, not reopening them. One recall organizer puts it this way to Politico: "So here's how I explain it to people who don't have kids," says Autumn Looijen. "Imagine you're in San Francisco. There's been an earthquake. You're out on the sidewalk in a tent because you're not sure if your home is safe to go back to. And you're cooking your meals on the sidewalk, you're trying to do normal things. You've been there for months. Finally, your elected leaders show up and you're like, 'Thank God, here's some help.' And they say, 'We are here to help. We're going to change the street signs for you.'"
  • The politics: At CNN, Nicole Hemmer digs into the national implications. "The politics swirling around the recall tell us something important about a process underway across the country," she writes. "In San Francisco, deep-pocketed, right-leaning donors shoveled money into the recall, while activists and media outlets began using language that lashed together the disparate dissatisfactions into a coherent message." That message: "parents' rights."
  • A caution: Amid the bellwether talk comes caution about reading too much into the vote. "It was about a series of incompetent decisions that were not well handled, and they built one upon the other," Jason McDaniel, an associate professor of political science at San Francisco State University, tells the LA Times. "It's about the competence and quality of the governance" and not a rejection of progressive politics, he says.
(More San Francisco stories.)

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