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OpEd: Election Day - Sonoma County by Lynda Hopkins

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OpEd: Election Day - Sonoma County by Lynda Hopkins

Thank you, West County, for electing me to be your next Fifth District Supervisor. 

Thank you, Noreen Evans, Tom Lynch, Marion Chase, and Tim Sergent for joining me in running for this office. It’s been an honor to get to know these four fantastic community leaders over the course of the campaign. Every single Fifth District Supervisor candidate brought profound passion and thoughtful policy solutions to the table. I look forward to following through on many of the policy ideas that Noreen, Tom, Marion and Tim brought up during the more than 20 candidate forums we participated in -- and to continuing to work with these leaders in the future.

Now the real work begins. My first job is to begin to bring our community together after a very divisive election cycle -- and to earn the trust of the organizations and residents who did not support my candidacy. Whether or not you supported me, please know that my door is always open to you. I hope that, in time, some of my most vociferous opponents will become my fiercest allies. It is going to take every single one of us working together to achieve our objectives, and I hope you are ready for the challenge.

Reviewing the Journey

Before jumping into the future, I’d like to first look back at Election Day 2016.

How can I possibly sum up the single strangest evening of my life? A year’s worth of work boiled down into one moment as we waited to hear the results from the Sonoma County Registrar’s Office.

Over the course of the campaign, we knocked on 45,000 doors. We made 28,000 phone calls. We held 45 meet-and-greets, 6 Town Halls, and hundreds of meetings. Our team of 87 volunteers walked through every neighborhood in Santa Rosa and Sebastopol at least six times, Guerneville and Graton three times, and Bodega Bay, Forestville, and Monte Rio twice.  

And in that moment, on Tuesday night, it was entirely up to you -- the residents of West County -- to decide whether what we’d done was enough.

The early returns, posted on the Registrar’s website, were strong. The crowd gathered at La Fondita in Roseland celebrated. Hugging, laughing, and crying filled the room. And yet the joy I felt at being given the opportunity to serve my community was tempered with a sinking feeling as it became clear that Donald Trump would become the next President of the United States. The moment was surreal: while we had just elected the first female West County Supervisor, the nation had just elected someone who’d boasted about grabbing women’s genitalia. 

The role of Supervisor is a non-partisan position. At the local level, we are able to move beyond party boundaries and achieve truly outside-of-the-box, across-the-aisle solutions. I look forward to working with everyone in our community, no matter their party affiliation. 

But as a lifelong registered Democrat and progressive, I am concerned for the future of our nation. I am concerned about an administration led by someone who believes climate change to be a hoax. I am concerned about an administration that scapegoats immigrants and minorities for national economic failures. I am concerned about an administration that does not value women’s rights and civil liberties. I’m concerned about a President-Elect who, in his first post-election Tweet, complained that protesting is “unfair.”

I’m not a political scientist. But I have spent the last year of my life immersed in the world of campaigning. And the 5th District is in many ways a microcosm of the United States. (Granted, it is much more liberal than the rest of the United States -- but still, hear me out.) In the 5th District, we have: urban wealth; rural wealth; urban poor; rural poor; highly educated communities; undereducated communities; inner city; suburbs; communities with little diversity; predominantly Latino communities; gun rights proponents; gun control proponents; luxury electric cars; people living out of their cars; and big trucks sporting Trump/Pence bumper stickers. 

Just as they are across America, all of these incongruities are broken down into little villages -- in the 5th District, around 30 of them -- that can be so introspective as to almost become silos. Silos of thought, silos of need, silos of perspective. These villages, incidentally, tend to vote as units. In an era of fragmented media, the most powerful voice is still the voice of the village. Word of mouth can still change the world.

I’ve read a hundred different articles on how Donald Trump became President. Quite simply, Donald Trump won the election because he won the villages. (He lost the popular vote because he lost the cities.)

Making it Right

Here, in my mind, is where progressives go wrong -- and how we can start to make it right.

1)  The Democratic Party can be resistant to new ideas, new faces, and young leadership -- and even discourages activist candidates from running for office. 

2)  Democrats tend to select candidates that appeal to the base, rather than candidates that capture the imagination of the general public. This reflects the fact that the party’s inner circle prefers to choose candidates, anointing them heavily with early endorsements and campaign contributions, rather than letting grassroots momentum carry elections. 

3)  Democrats assume that, because Democrats are the party with policies that have been demonstrated over time to benefit working class people, they will automatically get the votes of working class people. This is a deeply flawed assumption.

4)  Along those lines, Democrats tend to assume that citizens cast ballots based on logical, educated, factual reasons. While a subset of the electorate does vote based on policy and fact, elections are not decided by that narrow subset. Voting decisions of the undecided or “low information” voter are most likely based on emotion, and these are the voters that swing elections. Time and time again, inspirational figures -- love them or hate them -- beat out candidates with long lists of qualifications. (If elections were decided based on qualifications and experience, President McCain and Madame President Clinton would be in our history books.)

5)  Democrats forget that most of us don’t want to vote against someone. We want to vote for someone. Too much time is spent attacking others, and not enough time is spent creating a cohesive vision. Hillary focused on why Trump was unqualified to lead. By contrast, in 2008, then-candidate Obama rarely mentioned McCain.

Now, what to do? 

As progressives, we must retake populism. We just let an angry heir to a New York fortune ride a wave of working class rural American populism all the way to the White House. In lifestyle and life story, Donald Trump has nothing in common with America’s rural poor. In platform, he had nothing to offer them in the way of substantive policy. But it didn’t matter. He offered them criticism of the establishment. He offered them sympathy with their plight. In contrast, Hillary dismissed them as deplorables. Hillary insisted that America is already great.

To dismiss anger and frustration is to breed more anger and frustration. Even if someone is hateful, they should never be dismissed or ignored. 

We must create a new progressive vision that addresses the pain of those who have been left behind by a globalized economy. And no matter what the Trump administration throws at us, for the next four years, I will work alongside our progressive local, state and national representatives to advance our values. I will fight to make sure that women, people of color, and members of the LGBTQ community feel safe, respected, and equal in our society. I will fight to keep Fifth District families together, to prevent children and parents from being torn apart due to immigration status. I will fight to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. I will fight to protect our natural resources. I will fight to make our community inclusive and affordable.

If you share these values, please join me in this fight. Which brings me to my final point: I am currently accepting applications for County boards and commissions. 

If you are interested in serving in an appointed role in County government, please email me at  lynda.hopkins@sonoma-county.org.