The Lion, the Witch and the Billion-Dollar Wardrobe

Once again California is leading the rest of the nation in demonstrating how Democrats can win national and statewide elections, and win big. While some are already beginning to call 2010 the year of the "Tea Party", here in California it's a diminutive woman from the immigrant Latino community, accustomed to cleaning up after GOP house parties that may have made the biggest impact.

For much of 2010, Democrats watched in amazement as Meg Whitman built a massive campaign infrastructure, hiring some of the best Republican operatives money could buy. One by one they parachuted into California and Team Whitman began to dictate the pace and terms of the Governor's race during the primary.

Democrats watched Team Whitman tear apart her opponent, California Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner, limb by limb. And even when it was apparent to all she was going to be the Republican nominee, Team Whitman still decided to push the envelope further as proof of their mighty power.

Democrats took notice, the White House took notice. Everyone was nervous and Jerry Brown wasn't making anyone feel like he was going to put up the fight necessary to take back the Governors seat and place it in the Democrats column.

Then Nicandra "Nikki" Diaz came along -- a person neither the media nor political pundits ever factored into their conventional political wisdom.

But Meg, her husband, and her campaign geniuses knew all too well who Nikki Diaz was. And they mistakenly believed they could demonize her at no political risk.

Then Nikki stepped out from the shadows, speaking for the 12 million undocumented hardworking residents in the United States -- and she told her tragic, all too familiar story.

She wept, and anyone who saw her was stunned and captivated.

Amazingly, since that day Meg Whitman has stood by her cold and heartless behavior in her own household, and has combined that conduct with campaign soundbites detailing her opposition for real immigration reform, all the while highlighting her hypocritical support for punishing employers who hire illegal immigrants.

And while Whitman continues to try out a new rhetorical outfit just about every week, the timeline between her "Nikki Problem" and her meltdown in the polls converge ever so elegantly.

Just this week Fox released a poll that shows a 9-point swing from polling a month ago in Jerry Browns favor. Polling by the Los Angeles Times, at one point a dead heat now shows Brown with nearly a 13-point lead. And the Public Policy Institute of California recently showcased data that moved its dial 9 points in Brown's direction.

Besides agreeing on a lead for Brown, these polls also have another statistic in common: Whitman does not have the requisite support by the Latino community to win, even after spending millions on Spanish language billboards, radio and television. According to the Times/USC poll, Whitman is receiving just 23 percent support from Latinos, down from near 40 percent just before Nikki came along. Pundits agree that in order for Whitman, or any Republican to win, they must receive at least one-third of the Latino vote.

It is ironic that a nanny would fill the void created by the benign neglect of the national Democratic Party in California -- and other states across the country -- when it comes to building the infrastructure necessary to turnout the Latino vote. Why the DNC and its many affiliates can't see the wisdom in investing largely in the Latino vote is something many operatives will be scratching their heads about post November. As they say, you reap what you sow.

And what came of the vaunted Whitman machine? It was claimed Meg told Nikki, "you don't know me and I don't know you." When questioned at the second debate about all of this Whitman's handlers coached her into a policy argument that was hypocritical and condescending to voters and specifically Latinos across California. The real side of Whitman, carefully hidden from view by her handlers, was released that night and now she is paying the price for her penchant to blame others, cold heartedness, and self-preserving political cowardice.

When the dust settles from this election cycle, let it be said that the so-called "Tea Party" movement ended at the border of California because a maid decided, at great personal risk, to step out of the shadows. Nikki Diaz made us finally realize how undocumented persons often care for the children and households of powerful and wealthy American families - yet in the final analysis are treated like sub humans and garbage.

She wasn't the most articulate, and wasn't exactly innocent in this nine-year employment saga. But her story of mistreatment was real, she was authentic, and in a state where Latino activists have spent years registering and educating voters on a shoestring -- we applaud Nikki for the Lion's courage to demand dignity and recognition for all hard working Latinos, and the countless contributions to our state regardless of immigration status.

There is an old Mexican proverb that goes something like this, "The lion believes that everyone shares his state of mind." Nikki was brave and fearless to stand for what is right. She shined a light on why immigration reform is so badly needed; and when national Democratic strategists finally decide that nurturing the Latino vote is a worthy and essential investment, they too will see that the party's future involves more than worrying about the GOP Tea Party.