HomePoliticsThe transgender recall vote exposes America's battle between progressives and conservatives

The transgender recall vote exposes America’s battle between progressives and conservatives

Thousands of people voted to elect Raul Urena to the Calexico Council, hoping the young politician would bring a fresh approach to the California border city’s long-standing problems with unemployment, crime and hardship.

But when Urena began promoting ideas popular with progressives in the United States, some voters changed their minds.

The fact that Urena also wore a dress and high heels during council meetings made some people feel cheated.

Urena, who uses she/her pronouns, faces transphobia in an effort to recall her in a referendum on Tuesday.

But its opponents say it’s about ideas, and what they say is progressivism’s tendency to raise the wrong issues.

“I voted for him because he is a young man who seems to have good ideas for my city. It would be a good change,” said Angela Moreno, a 62-year-old retiree.

“But when I started paying attention to what he was doing, his ideas, his beliefs, what was important to him… I wasn’t in that plan.”

Her city doesn’t need electric car chargers or greater tolerance for drug users, Moreno says.

“I didn’t vote for that.”

– Culture Wars –

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Calexico is a divided city.

Call it the generation gap; call it the culture wars; or call it two population groups shouting past each other, it is a story that resonates in a country that is preparing for the confrontation in November between Donald Trump and Joe Biden.

On the one hand, there are those who long for an America they see disappearing; on the other hand, there are those who want something different and don’t mourn a place that they think never worked for them.

Like other rural towns, Calexico’s economy has stagnated in recent years.

Unemployment is high in a place where border closures during the pandemic have hampered trade. The population is overwhelmingly Latino, Catholic and older, and generally votes Democratic, but largely belongs to the conservative wing of the party.

Young people see few opportunities and are inclined to leave if they get the chance. Few come back.

Urena did it.

After studying economics at the University of California, Santa Cruz, Urena, now 26, moved home in 2020.

She was thrown directly into city politics, filling a vacancy created when a council member was removed due to corruption allegations.

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In 2022, she was re-elected for a full four-year term.

Although she insists her gender fluidity has never been a secret, it wasn’t until after her re-election that she started wearing dresses and heels to public affairs.

“People have been making fun of my gender identity since 2020,” the politician said.

Last year, after assuming the office of mayor — the position is rotated annually among the council’s five members — she learned of a campaign for a recall referendum, a plan she says is being devised by defeated opponents.

“They are essentially leading a recall campaign in response to losing the last few elections,” Urena told AFP.

“They are trying to dethrone the progressive movement in Calexico.”

– ‘Deceived people’ –

Former Calexico Mayor Alex Perrone says people mainly take issue with Urena’s lack of experience and divisiveness.

“I hold our constitutional rights very strongly… and he’s taking them away from us,” he said.

“If you go to a council meeting and say something that goes against his beliefs, against his agenda, then you are his enemy.”

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But, he adds, some also feel cheated by Urena’s public transition.

“When he was campaigning, he wore nice little pants and a button-up shirt. After he was elected, he started wearing a dress,” Perrone told AFP.

‘He misled people. They thought they were voting for one person, but they were voting for another.”

Yet the campaign emphasizes that Urena’s gender identity is not the real issue.

“This recall will not target the lives of anyone because of personal and sexual choices,” the Facebook post said.

“While all comments are welcome, please refrain from this discussion.”

Yet there is a deeply personal tension in the air, with dueling signs urging residents to vote for or against the recall and vitriolic comments at public meetings.

Urena’s fellow progressive council member Gilberto Manzanarez, who is also the target of a recall effort, fears the division is crippling the city, impacting even uncontroversial actions like filling a vacancy for police chief.

“It wasn’t even a unanimous vote,” he says.

“That tells me that this council is as divided and as divided as the community is right now.”

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