US right-wing radio host Larry Elder raises concerns among Muslim activists in California election bid

US right-wing radio host Larry Elder raises concerns among Muslim activists in California election bid
California's unusual recall rules has led to a right-wing radio host leading the pack of candidates running against current Governor Gavin Newsom.
4 min read
Washington, D.C.
14 September, 2021
Elder could become California's new governor [Getty]

In the California recall election, the 46 candidates running against the Democratic incumbent are being led by a Republican right-wing radio talk show host whose past comments - including ones deemed to be Islamophobic - have raised concerns among civil rights advocates.

If Larry Elder is elected, he would be representing a solidly Democratic state with positions that include defending the killer of an unarmed Black teenager, saying that employers can ask women employees if they plan to have children, and linking violent extremists with mainstream Muslims.

Najee Ali, a fellow Black political commentator who had befriended Elder when he started his radio show in the early 1990s, was hoping to engage in healthy discussion of different political philosophies.

He accepted their differences, despite many of his friend's positions he found difficult. The final straw was when Elder sided with George Zimmerman, a local vigilante who killed Trayvon Martin without cause as he walked home from a store.

"I first met Larry Elder when he got a start on talk radio in LA. He was one of the few Black leaders I'd debate. We developed a relationship - we'd eat dinner together. Even though he disagreed, I respected his right to have his own opinion," Ali, president of the Muslim Democratic Club of southern California, told The New Arab.

"That friendship ended when he started making Islamophobic comments and defended the killer of Trayvon Martin."

There are political differences, and then there are times when those differences veer into human rights and public safety.

For Ali and other civil rights activists, Elder's work and comments had reached a point where they saw it as a potential danger to society.

He has consistently hosted on his radio show right-wing guests who have been designated as "Islamophobes" by civil rights organisations, and he has repeatedly linked ordinary Muslims with violent extremists.

"He has hosted well-known Islamophobes. He has provided them with a platform to spew their hateful comments of Islam," Hussam Ayloush, executive director of Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR)-California told The New Arab.

"Sometimes his way of distancing himself of this hatred directly is to host people," said Ayloush.

"The only thing that's concerning is that he could become governor because of this strange recall process. He could become governor of one of the most influential states in the country."

In addition to his views on marginalised groups, Elder's political platform is in line with Donald Trump's wing of the Republican Party. This includes opposition to vaccination mandates, healthcare expansion, and support for increased restrictions on immigration.

The bloc has also referred to environmentalists as "extremists", promoted school vouchers (meaning defunding the state's public schools), and opposition to a minimum wage.

How did such a deeply conservative candidate get this far in such a reliably Democratic state as California? It is not because California's voters have suddenly changed their political leanings since the November election, in which Joe Biden beat Trump by around 30 points. It is due to the unusual nature of the state's recall rules, which are among the laxest in the country.

For a recall election to occur, petitioners must collect the equivalent of 12 percent of votes from the previous gubernatorial election, a low threshold compared with other states. Moreover, unlike in other states, there is no minimum age for candidates to run for governor in California, leading to the names of recent college graduates appearing on the ballot. For this specific recall, the deadline for collecting signatures was extended by four months due to the pandemic.

California's recall rules have irked critics, who point out that the way they were written means that the person with the most votes could easily lose the election.

Newsom, the current governor, would need to get more than 50 percent to keep his post. This means he could lose with 49 percent while Elder might win with just 28 percent (his latest polling number).

As of Monday evening, on the eve of the recall race, the average polls showed Newsom ahead, with more than 60 percent of voters against the recall.