California’s ‘Surf City USA’ voters side with conservative MAGA measures

Southern California’s oceanside Republican stronghold continued its rightward march this week, as voters appeared likely to approve two controversial ballot measures that are sure to draw ire and, in one case, legal action from the state’s liberal leaders.

Huntington Beach, a city of about 200,000 south of Los Angeles, was poised to pass a pair of charter amendments that effectively ban Pride flags from flying on municipal property and require voter identification for local elections — despite warnings from California’s attorney general and secretary of state that such an ID law runs afoul of state law and would lead to a court battle.

As of Thursday, with most ballots counted, the initiatives led by wide margins, and their chief opponents had conceded.

A third measure, which was also backed by Huntington Beach’s far-right council majority, would have modified the city’s budget cycle and given its mayor the power to unilaterally cancel council meetings. That initiative appeared on track to fail as of late Thursday, showing that voters may have embraced the council’s culture-war priorities but were not as willing to go along with everything the elected officials suggested.

The run-up to Tuesday’s election roiled Huntington Beach, which has long cherished its reputation as a laid-back surf town, and deeply divided its residents. Even as demographics have driven much of surrounding Orange County to the left, Huntington Beach has retained its historically conservative bent, and registered Republicans still outnumber Democrats there.

But the current council majority, elected in 2022, has pushed the city further right, with Tuesday’s ballot measures just the latest in a growing list of MAGA priorities that conservatives have championed.

And while the council’s majority did not appear to pull off a clean sweep, members say the results further validate their approach to local governance, which has included weighing in on polarizing subjects more often found in national political debates, including immigration policies and LGBTQ rights.

“The results show that our voters believe in the direction our city is headed — one of unity, patriotism and the restoration of election integrity,” Gracey Van Der Mark, Huntington Beach’s mayor and one of the council’s four conservatives, said in a statement. “As an elected representative, it is important to me that I advocate for the wants and needs of our community. The passing of these measures reassures me that I am on the right track.”

For opponents of the measures, who sought to convince their right-leaning hometown that its leadership had gone too far, the results were a bitter end to a discordant campaign that pitted neighbors against each other and had both sides harking back to a time when city politics wasn’t so acerbic.

Protect Huntington Beach, a community activist group that formed to protest the charter amendments, reported that dozens of its signs urging the public to vote “no” on the measures were vandalized with stickers and spray paint in the run-up to Election Day. In a statement, the group said its members were “deeply saddened at the outcome of the election.”

But the group, which is made up largely of retirees and includes several former city leaders, grew quickly in recent months. Organizers said they would look to build on their momentum ahead of the November contest, when the council’s three Democratic members are up for reelection and are facing a slate of Republicans looking to consolidate control of the body.

“Protect HB is not going anywhere,” the group’s statement said. “Our job is not done. We feel it has only just begun.”

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