The Times: Essential news from the L.A. Times

The best and worst in 2022 politics

Episode Summary

Ukraine, abortion, midterms, racist tape leaks — 2022 was a lot, politically. We gather our newsroom experts to break down the year.

Episode Notes

Ukraine, abortion, midterms, racist tape leaks — 2022 was a lot, politically. We gather our newsroom experts to break down the year. Read the full transcript here.

Host: Gustavo Arellano

Guests: L.A. Times U.S. Supreme Court David G. Savage, California politics columnist Mark Barabak, and L.A. city politics reporter Julia Wick

More reading:

News Analysis: Supreme Court likes separation of powers, but not of church and state

Hate grows, L.A. politics go berserk and Gen Z saves democracy: Columnists dissect 2022

L.A. on the Record: KDL, absurdist theater and a trick play

Episode Transcription

Gustavo Arellano: Today on “The Times,” we continue our year-end list of the biggest stories. This time focusing on politics. Yeah, there's a lot there.

Local, regional, national, international… 2022 was a year like few others.

But which were the stories that tell us the most about where the United States is right now, and which are the ones we should have paid more attention to?

Gustavo Arellano: I'm Gustavo Arellano. You're listening to “The Times: Essential News From the L.A. Times.” 

It's Wednesday, December 28th, 2022. Today, we look back on the political year that was. Plus our predictions going into 2023. 

Gustavo Arellano:Joining us are a trio of L.A. Times reporters. Each familiar voices on this podcast. First up is David G. Savage. He covers the Supreme Court and legal issues. David, welcome to “The Times.”

David Savage: Good to talk to you again, Gustavo. 

Gustavo Arellano: Also with us today is Julia Wick, a metro reporter who spent the past year covering everything Los Angeles City Hall and the city's mayoral election. Hello, Julia.

Julia Wick: Great to see you, Gustavo.

Gustavo Arellano: And finally is the only person at the Times who talks faster than me, political columnist Mark Barabak. Mark, great to have you back on.

Mark Barabak: Hey, colonel.

Gustavo Arellano: Haha, thank you all for being here today. It was a huge geopolitical year worldwide, from the invasion of Ukraine to escalating tensions with China and the continued problems that the COVID-19 pandemic wrought on us all. But for this episode, I want to focus on domestic affairs, because 2022 saw some developments that's going to stay with us for years to come. David, let's start with you, because with the Supreme Court there were some fundamental things that happened. What was the big story on your beat this year? 

David Savage: Well, it's pretty obvious. I guess the abortion-overturning Roe vs. Wade. This has been a cause for the right for 50 years. They finally got a court that has five very solid conservatives — six, six in all, if you include John Roberts — who their whole career is part of the conservative movement of overturning Roe vs. Wade. I wrote a lot of stories about that for a lot of years, but I think most of the American public sort of thought, no, they're not going to overturn a right that has been understood for 50 years. The court never does something like that. Well, they did it and the, you know, that opinion was leaked in May. I think just, uh, I had a lot of friends I talked to, a lot of co-workers — people who were just sort of shocked. This is a very conservative court, and they're going to be with us for quite a while, five or 10 years at least, with this current group of six. So, um, expect more of the same. 

Gustavo Arellano: You've covered the court for decades. Have you seen public opinion of the court so bifurcated, I guess, the way you're seeing it right now? 

David Savage: No. If you mean bifurcated, that it's sort of Republican, Democrat, liberal, conservative. For a lot of years, the Supreme Court had a pretty good sort of standing with the public because every year there'd be not a fair number of conservative decisions, but a few liberal decisions. There was always sort of a mix. Anthony Kennedy, Sandra O'Connor, were these sort of, um, middle-of-the-road moderate conservatives. And so with a court like that, you'd get sort of a mix. And I think a lot of people thought, well, I may not agree with all their decisions, but in general, this is a reasonable court. Now we've got a very conservative court that is very… Republicans in polls are very fond of the courts. Democrats and middle-of-the-roaders say, gee, gee, this is a partisan, political court. So there's a real divide in the public estimation of the court that I, I don't think I've ever seen in, in polls or public standing before. 

Gustavo Arellano: Sadly, anger and division are now part, a regular part, of politics, even the ultimate law of the land. But speaking of division, Julia, Karen Bass took office this month as the first female mayor of Los Angeles, and its second-ever Black mayor. L.A.'s political campaigns are always going to get national attention, so that historic moment did, but this year was, well, kind of interesting in L.A. politically. What do you remember, Julia?

Julia Wick: It was absolutely a fascinating race. I think one of the things that was most interesting about the Bass-Caruso matchup is these are two candidates who weren't actually wildly different ideologically. You know, if you look at their policy platforms, it was really a matter of degrees, and pretty small degrees dividing them, but symbolically they couldn't have been more different. One was a Black woman whose roots were as community organizer in South L.A., spent much of her life in public service, and her opponent was a billionaire real estate developer who had built some of the most successful malls and well-known malls in the city. And so they really had these kind of contrasts of style and contrasts about what they sort of stood for in the city. And I think ultimately it was an election that very much came down to partisanship. Both were Democrats, but Caruso had been a Republican for much of his life. He had switched his party registration a couple of times, and I think that was something that voters in L.A., a city that is overwhelmingly Democratic, really couldn't get over, particularly coming so soon after the Dobbs decision.

Gustavo Arellano: And then of course there was also the matter of a racist leaked tape that just blew up the entire election, in all the elections in L.A. County, and beyond even.

Julia Wick: Absolutely. I think that was the biggest City Hall story in years, maybe decades. We've really never seen anything like it before and the repercussions are very much still kind of unfolding.

Gustavo Arellano: Yeah, the fallout continues. Councilmember Kevin de León, who was caught on that racist tape ridiculing Black political power, says he’s not going to resign despite mounting pressure to do so from both the public and politicians. But Julia, why do you think the eyes of the United States were so focused on everything that happened in L.A.? It wasn’t just the racist tape leak. You also had national and international attention to the L.A. sheriff’s race, and then especially the mayoral race with Bass and Rick Causo, who ran against her. 

Julia Wick: I mean, I’d say it was super surreal right after the leak, walking into a City Council meeting and just the entire back of the room was national TV cameras. This was the first meeting after the leak where the New York Times actually ran a live blog during the L.A.  City Council meeting. Which was crazy. Um, not how it normally unfolds. I think a lot of reasons. I mean, L.A. is the nation's second-largest city. You know, when California sneezes, the nation catches a cold. What happens here very often has national importance. But also in terms of the mayoral race, this was one of the most expensive mayoral races in American history. And I think also people were really looking to L.A. to see whether, you know, we were going to have an Eric Adams moment and maybe shift a bit more towards the center with the law and order candidate, which ultimately did not end up happening. Bass won by almost 10 points.

Gustavo Arellano: And not only that, there was a progressive wave with some of the younger City Council members in L.A. 

Julia Wick: Yes, we saw a couple of new City Council members elected. We saw a lot of anti-incumbent energy. I think that was something that really unified across the city and to higher levels as well. But it wasn't unilaterally progressive. For instance, in one City Council race, in the coastal race, uh, in CD 11, Mike Bonin’s seat, Traci Park, who's a bit more conservative, still a Democrat, beat out her progressive opponent. So it wasn't kind of down the middle. 

Gustavo Arellano: Mark, the Republican Party was expected to have this huge red wave for the midterms. But that didn't happen. So what's gonna be one of your more memorable political moments for this year?

Mark Barabak: Well, you mentioned it. I mean, not to play the role of Captain Obvious, this was a midterm election, and the huge story for me politically was the midterm election. And as you said, the red wave that turned out to be more like an itty-bitty red puddle. I mean, Republicans took control of the House, but not by a lot. They needed to win five seats. They're, they're gonna control it by nine. That's, that's exactly the narrow margin that Democrats held it by. And they were talking about picking up 60 seats, which was never in the cards, but 30 certainly seemed plausible. And it seems when the year started, that Republicans were a pretty good bet to pick up the Senate. Neither of those happened. Why not? Well, it didn't happen for a couple reasons. One was, uh, the abortion ruling that David mentioned, that really energized Democrats, independent women, suburban women. Women voters who might otherwise have voted Republican, but were upset by the Supreme Court's decision. And the other one was Donald Trump. You know, it brings to mind the old country song. How can I miss you when you don't go away? I mean, Donald Trump has not been your typical former president. What do they usually do? They go overseas and give speeches and make a ton of money. They concentrate on building their presidential library. You know, Donald Trump has been in our faces, in our living rooms, in our Twitter feeds, constantly since leaving office. And so this was not a referendum, which is what a midterm typically is. Do I like Joe Biden? Do I not like Joe Biden? It became a choice. Do I like Joe Biden more than I like Donald Trump, the election deniers that he was supporting? And when it came down to that decision, interestingly, the exit poll showed a lot of people were not happy with Joe Biden, but they voted for, uh, Democrats anyway. That is not quite unprecedented, but a really unusual and remarkable thing. 

Gustavo Arellano: So you're saying this year was yet another electoral defeat for Donald Trump, who's already said he's going to run for president in 2024. 

Mark Barabak: Yeah, he, he's three for three. I mean, let's remember, he didn't win the popular vote. He took office because he won the electoral college. He lost control of the House in the 2018 midterms. He lost the Senate. He has the distinction, uh, going back to your good friend, Herbert Hoover, being the first president to lose control of the White House, the Senate and the House, and yes, he is running for president again. Although it's, you know, it's interesting, he gave his speech a week after the midterm and he’s kind of gone underground, I mean, relatively speaking for Donald Trump, since. Hasn't done any rallies, hasn't done a whole lot of campaign events. So, yes, he's running, but not very hard, at least right now.

Gustavo Arellano: Yeah, for me the biggest story was, it's the same story every two years, Latinos. How are Latinos going to vote? Are Latinos going to go more Republican? Part of the red wave that you described as a puddle, Mark, was this idea Latinos were going to reject the Democratic Party, turn Republican and help Republicans win. The same thing happened in Los Angeles, Julia, with the mayor's race, with Rick Caruso, even though he was running as Democrat, poured millions of dollars into this unprecedented campaign to get out the vote for Latinos. And David, there's only one Latina on the Supreme Court, Sonia Sotomayor, but I've seen her really emerge as this, you know, voice of the loyal opposition, ’cause she is one of the few liberals left on the Supreme Court. And yet it, and it seems, in Sonia's case, she's the only one who is paying up to her end of the supposed bargain because Latinos showed up to vote for Caruso, but not enough numbers to get Rick Caruso to beat Karen Bass. And we all know what happened with the Republicans, Mark. Latinos, it seems like they are still kind of iffy about the Democratic Party, but they're just still not cool enough with the Republicans to go for them.

Mark Barabak: Well, and they also didn't show up in large numbers. I mean, that's one of the stories of the midterm election: Turnout of Black voters was down, turnout of Latino voters was down. And I think that explains why Democrats failed to win at least a couple seats that they had their eye on. There was an open seat up in the, uh, northern part of the San Joaquin Valley, that a Republican ended up picking up that seat. David Valadao running in a district that Joe Biden carried, overwhelmingly reelected. Part of the story is because there was not a significant Latino turnout and that hurt Democrats.

Gustavo Arellano: Julia, what do you think? 

Julia Wick: I think that the big bet that Caruso made was very much not just on winning Latino votes, but turning out voters who hadn't, probably not previously voted in L.A. mayoral elections or did not regularly vote. And that by and large did not succeed. There was not much of a turnout bump in L.A. for Latino voters.

Gustavo Arellano: David, how are you seeing Sonia Sotomayor grow or even evolve in her role as a justice on the Supreme Court.

David Savage: Well, I agree with what you said, Gustavo. She is an outspoken critic of the liberal court and she's not… she's not somebody trying to work the middle or to soft-coat any differences. She is a strong voice of opposition. And she was sort of that for many years and she's become more so all along. For a long time, the other two liberals, Elena Kagan and Stephen Breyer, were the sort of, let's work the middle. You know, maybe we can try to make some of the bad decisions not quite so bad. Justice Sotomayor was always the, you know, strong voice on the liberal side. And she, I think, feels more unbound now because there's very little, in a lot of these cases, there's no middle-ground position. It's left or right. So I think she's really emerged as a strong voice and as a good person. She's going to be, have a lot to say and a lot to complain about in the years ahead because as I say, the court's gonna move very far right. And she's going to be very unhappy with them.

Gustavo Arellano: Coming up after the break: Some political stories that our guests think deserved more attention.

Gustavo Arellano: So we talked about the big stories, but David, Mark, Julia, there's only so many stories y'all could have gotten to in 2022. And all reporters always have stories either we couldn't get to or think there just should have been more coverage about. Julia, let's start with you this time. What's your pick for an L.A. story that didn't get enough attention?

Julia Wick: There is definitely one area where I feel like with both the leak and the election, we were just running around like chickens with our heads cut off for so long that we did not get to kind of dig into everything we wanted to dig into. And for me, one of the most potent examples of that that I would really like to write about more is these two major reform measures that are kind of on the docket in L.A. that have really been catalyzed by the leak, although they had been talked about for a long time before. 

One is the drive to put an independent redistricting commission in charge of L.A. redistricting, drawing the City Council lines, because much of what was captured on the leak was just how much influence City Council has over the current redistricting process. And the other is a reform to potentially increase the number of seats on the City Council. Right now, L.A. has 15 City Council seats for a population of about 4 million people. That means each council member represents a little more than a quarter-million people. It's a huge amount of power. And so a lot of good governance experts have argued that making a bigger council where each council member represents fewer constituents would actually really help with a lot of issues, particularly corruption issues, because it would dilute that power a bit and also allow them to pay more attention to the areas they are serving. 

Both of these things would be very major efforts to undertake because they would require a change to the city charter, which is basically like the big governing document that sort of dictates how L.A. runs. And in order to do that, you need to pass a charter amendment, which requires a vote of the public. So it would have to go to a ballot measure and be voted on by the people of Los Angeles.

Gustavo Arellano: Yeah, gerrymandering's a huge issue nationwide, period. Mark, what's your underrated story of the year?

Mark Barabak: Well, to pick up on what Julia was just saying and to venture a bit into David Savage land, I think one of the least appreciated things was the role of the judiciary in shaping congressional contests. And by that I mean, we had several states where maps were drawn that were very, very favorable to one party or the other. 

You know, in Florida, Republicans drew a very, very gerrymandered, very favorable map, and it wasn't favorable enough for Ron DeSantis, the governor, who threw it out and drew an even more gerrymandered map, which helped Republicans pick up a lot of seats there. That was fine with the courts in Florida, and I hope whoever's listening is either sitting down or you don't swerve off the road when you hear this, but judges act in very, very partisan fashion. 

In New York and Maryland, we had very, very favorable maps for Democrats that were thrown out. More competitive maps were drawn. Republicans picked up a lot of seats in New York. In Ohio, justices there threw out a very gerrymandered map. Republicans who control the legislature said, well, forget it: We're going to go with these maps anyway. So huge, huge influence in terms of control of the House and the way these maps are drawn based on the partisan judgment of justices of state Supreme Courts.

Gustavo Arellano: David, what's a legal story that you wish you had more time to cover in 2022?

David Savage: Well, I think one of the really big stories coming along now is sort of control of the internet is up for grabs and nobody knows exactly what's a reasonable, right solution. We've had, I don't know, 30 years of the sort of free speech model that anything goes. And what we've got is an internet with a lot of lies, distortions, hate speech, conspiracy theories, and a lot of people left, right, middle say there's something wrong here, but Ron DeSantis and Greg Abbott want the state of Texas and Florida to pass laws to say the internet can't exclude Republicans. They wanna have some law that's gonna have the state courts and the state legislature tell, you know, you need to put more conservatives and Republicans on the internet. 

On the left side, a lot of people, you know, want to get rid of the lies and distortions and hate speech on the internet, but nobody knows exactly what the right model is. And the Supreme Court's gonna be asked to weigh in on a lot of these. 

And then, in addition to all that, you have this sort of billionaire model: the Elon Musks people take over and they want to then control the internet and put on people they like and take off people they don't like. So I think this is really much up in the air. There's going to be a lot of big court cases coming and the court's going to try to have to decide: Can the government play any role in moderating or restraining content on the internet, or is it, got to be the anything-goes model? 

Mark Barabak: I'm old enough to remember. You know, you say DeSantis and Abbott want legislation requiring more Republicans on the internet. I'm old enough to remember when Republicans were the party, there was anti-quota, right?

David Savage: Yeah, that they thought free speech is a good thing. Talk radio should be free and all that. They flipped entirely and now they want to regulate the internet, but of course they only want to regulate it in their favorite way. That is, let's protect conservatives and, and if need be, kick off the liberals. And that doesn't seem to be a very good, uh, formula.

Gustavo Arellano: More after the break. 

Gustavo Arellano: OK, folks, let's look forward now. We're almost out of time here, but in your respective beats, what do you see happening in 2023? Mark, you start.

Mark Barabak: Well, I have good news for voters. If you are concerned about gas prices or inflation or anything else, you're going to have a new Republican, uh, House majority that's going to spend a lot of time informing you about Hunter Biden's, uh, laptop. You know, I talked to dozens, if not scores, of voters last year, and with the exception of very ardent partisans, I didn't hear a single person bring up Hunter Biden's laptop or a desire to see Republicans investigating Democrats. But I think you're going to see an awful lot of that in the next Congress — on the House side, I should say. And, uh, I don't think it's going to go well for Republicans. You know, I don't claim to be particularly wise, but I have seen a few things and you know, we saw that same thing in ’98: Republicans went after President Bill Clinton, uh, impeached him and there was a huge backlash. Again, I don't think there's a huge appetite for investigations, but I don't think that's going to stop the new Republican majority in the House.

Gustavo Arellano: Vernon Jordan redux. What about you, Julia?

Julia Wick: I think it'll be really interesting to see how everything plays out with Bass as mayor and this new class of council members. And then Kenneth Mejia, who also was an insurgent candidate who's pretty young, led a really incredible social-media-heavy campaign and won the city controller's race. All of these politicians who really have been sort of oppositional to the system, seeing what happens when they all take office. And to be clear, I'm not counting Bass in the oppositional- to-the-system category. She absolutely is not in that category. I meant the new council members and Mejia. 

Gustavo Arellano: Haha. And finally, David, what do you see the Supreme Court doing in 2023? What are the big stories?

David Savage: Well, let me give you two R words: race and regulation. The Supreme Court's got an affirmative action case among colleges. The conservatives are very strong in their view that the government may not use race as a factor for college admissions or anything. So there's gonna be some big decisions that very much rein in the use of race in any sort of affirmative way. They care about that, and it's gonna be the first of many. And regulation, one of the really big things the Supreme Court is doing is basically saying a Democratic administration, like Joe Biden, does not have the authority to make major advances in things like environmental law or COVID vaccines or student loan forgiveness. They're very much inclined to say, “Hey, if you want to make big changes, you’ve got to go to Congress.” Congress isn't passing any legislation, so they're really clamping down and squeezing the power of the federal government. It's particularly so in Democratic administrations to do regulations on things that Democrats think are good and Congress isn't taking them on. The Supreme Court's going to say, sorry, you can't do that.

Gustavo Arellano: And as for me, I see 2023 — actually, I write a whole column every year about my predictions for the following year, and I'm right every single year. So just go to and you can see all my predictions there and it'll touch on everything that we talked about today. 

Gustavo Arellano: And that's gonna be it for this today. So Friday, we're gonna talk about the biggest pop culture stories of the year, but for meanwhile, Julia, Mark, David, thank you so much for this conversation.

David Savage: Good to be with you. All three of you.

Mark Barabak: Thanks for having us.

Gustavo Arellano: And that's it for this episode of “The Times: Essential News From the L.A. Times.” David Toledo was the jefa on this episode and Mark Nieto mixed and mastered it.

Our show's produced by Denise Guerra, Kasia Broussalian and David Toledo and Ashley Brown. Our editorial assistants are Roberto Reyes and Nicolas Perez.

Our engineers are Mario Diaz, Mark Nieto and Mike Heflin. Our editor is Kinsee Morlan. Our executive producers are Jazmín Aguilera, Shani Hilton and Heba Elorbany. And our theme music is by Andrew Eapen.

I'm Gustavo Arellano. We'll be back Friday with all the news and desmadre. Gracias.