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The Work of Our Era: Post Election Wrap-Up

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The Work of Our Era: Post Election Wrap-Up

By Ben Boyce

Every election year since 2000, the Sonoma County liberal/progressive alliance holds a post-election analysis meeting called (with a nod to Dr. Seuss) “Green Eggs and Ham.”  This has been updated to “Green and Blue Eggs and Ham” for the eighth edition of this event, co-sponsored by Sonoma County Conservation Action, North Bay Labor Council, SEIU 1021, and the Sonoma County Democratic Party.  They received the torch from the original sponsors of the event, The Leadership Institute. 

This is one of my favorite political gatherings, which I described to another attendee as “top shelf entertainment for political junkies.”  The purpose of the event is to review the recently concluded election and analyze our successes and shortcomings.  The panels are a mix of elected officials, political consultants, and progressive movement activists.  This biannual pow-wow helps the various elements of the electoral progressive movement get a sense of how the election outcomes look from the perspective of the constituent organizations and what worked and what did not. 

State Elections

This year’s “Green and Blue Eggs and Ham” had three panels: State Elections, Local Organizations and Measures, The Local Candidates. The first panel was moderated by former Assembly member Michael Allen, and included retired State Senator Noreen Evans (who had received the “Working Class Hero Award” at the North Bay Labor Council banquet on Thursday), newly elected Assembly member Jim Wood, new State Senator Mike McGuire, UFCW Western States Council Executive Director Jim Araby, and political consultant Grant Martin.  Jim Araby noted the challenge ahead nationally, in which the Democratic Party holds the ‘tri-fecta’ (Governor, Assembly, and Senate) in only 12 states, while the Republican Party has fully captured 27 states.  He stated that the three factors that have most influenced current California politics are the top-two (open) primary, the 2010 redistricting, and the voter-approved term-limits extension. 

The top-two primary has resulted in sharpening the ideological distinctions between liberal and progressive Democrats. Redistricting has resulted in a political re-shuffling of the deck in ways that have disrupted long-standing alliances and established political networks.  The atypical 2010 state decennial redistricting, mandated by initiative, was why Michael Allen had to run in Marin in 2010 against Marc Levine for Assembly, after representing a Sonoma/Napa/Solano County district for his first term.  Had he run in the same district, he would still be in the Assembly.  The term-limits extension has altered career trajectories in Sacramento, allowing the elected officials a bit more opportunity to match the expertise of the permanent political class of lobbyists in the capitol.  The consensus on this panel was that progressives need to spend more time on the policy side, not just on legislative concerns, helping inform and shape the electorate for the long term project of good governance. 

Local Organizations and Measures

The second panel focused on the issues driving Sonoma County politics.  Panelists included Lisa Maldonado (Executive Director, North Bay Labor Council), Denny Rosatti (Executive Director, Sonoma County Conservation Action) Bleys Rose (Sonoma County Democratic Party), Ron Lopez (SSU Professor of Latino Studies), Gary Wysocky (Santa Rosa Councilman); Craig Litwin, (Litwin Consulting), Jason Klumb (SEIU 1021). The primary rivalry in Sonoma County politics is the contest for power and influence between environmentalists and labor on one hand and the Chamber of Commerce, Sonoma County Alliance, and the Farm Bureau on the other. These contesting coalitions are not fully unified on all the issues on either side, but they have common interests that pull them together.  One takeaway from this panel was the role of IE’s (Independent Expenditure campaigns) in highlighting the negatives of Chamber candidates which the regional paper, the Press Democrat, will not cover. Another lesson was the importance of key issues like cannabis legalization or college tuition relief for drawing younger voters. 

One panelist noted that the Chamber’s modus operandi is to seek out appealing candidates with no electoral record (like Efren Carillo and James Gore), while the progressives want candidates who have been tested in office and who have demonstrated their proficiency at governance. That orientation makes sense if you believe that government is an instrument for social benefit, rather than an institution to be contained through de-regulation and managed for private gains. The audience was reminded that the county Community Separator ordinance (which blocks sprawl development in county areas) will expire in 2016, which might explain why Deb Fudge was outspent nearly 2/1 by her opponent, who received large sums of out-of-county money from real estate PAC’s, who would gain from breaking down the community separators.

Local Candidates

The third panel was moderated by fundraising and campaign consultant Alex Anderson. On this panel were Dorothy Battenfeld (new SRJC Board of Trustees District 3/4/5), Deb Fudge (Windsor City Council), Jordan Burns (new SRJC Board of Trustees District 7), Janice Cader- Thompson (Petaluma City Council), Omar Medina (new Santa Rosa  City School Board), and Bridgett Mansell (new Healdsburg City Council member). The theme on this panel was the need for an ongoing mobilization around community issues, apart from the political cycle. This approach will address the ongoing problem of voter engagement by centering on core community concerns. Groups like the North Bay Organizing Project and Sonoma County Conservation Action are doing this kind of grass-roots organizing.  The consensus of this panel is that voting is a social activity and can be promoted by civic engagement. 

I was encouraged by the energy and enthusiasm of the new young elected officials with fire in the belly. The solidarity between greens and labor has grown every electoral cycle. The piece of the political agenda that still needs work is formulating a fully articulated progressive worldview that can serve as the conceptual framework for all of the diverse projects and policy interests. That may be too much to ask from people who are immersed in the day-to-day political struggle. The project of co-creating a broadly shared progressive narrative was the core concern at the recent Praxis Peace Institute conference, “The Economics of Sustainability.” The conference sought to find the destination address of the long march of the progressive movement towards a new vision unencumbered by the dogmas of the old Left and the failures of reformist liberalism. 

The progressive movement has been on defense now for decades, since the rise of the Reagan/Thatcher corporatist conservative hegemony.  The biggest accomplishment of the reformist liberal agenda under Barack Obama has been the passage of a health care insurance reform that was originally designed by the conservative Heritage Foundation and first enacted by Mitt Romney as governor of Massachusetts. That’s a small step forward, but it doesn’t scale to a transformative moment. We need a profound paradigm shift that will re-boot our economy, protect our biosphere, and heal our fragmented and alienated culture.

As Naomi Klein makes clear in her latest bestseller, “This Changes Everything,” the dynamic of global corporate capitalism will destroy our physical environment and atomize our social structures left unchecked. The morally grounded, anthropologically pragmatic, and ecologically sane vision of a new civilization founded on social empathy and kinship with nature will be created organically by many sources. That mighty river is beginning to gather force from a multitude of streams and tributaries. This is the work of our era.