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Monday, August 21, 2006

Angelides, Bowen, McNerney and the grassroots angels

Occasionally, in the process of blogging and writing about local politics, something arrives in your email inbox that just hits you over the head and spanks your ass.

I'd like to use this essay to share just that email experience with you. I hope you'll find it powerful. If you're anything like me, it will give you a real kick in the pants. By way of providing background for this email, I'd first like to address the political situation here, on the ground, in my home state of California...


Let's face it, the races in California are tough this year. There's no getting around that fact. Even my own personal top three are tough:
  • Democrat Debra Bowen is locked in a tight race with GOP incumbent Bruce McPherson for Secretary of State.

  • Phil Angelides is taking it to a resurgent Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger

  • and Democrat and environmentalist Jerry McNerney is trying to topple, against all odds, entrenched GOP incumbent Richard Pombo in CA-11.

  • These are difficult, difficult races. But all three of them have deep political meaning and will impact the lives of every citizen of California for years to come.  In way of background, allow me five seconds to share my thoughts with you:

    Debra Bowen stands for election reform. She gets it. Further, Debra Bowen centers her campaigning squarely on that cause.  As countless activists have emphasized here in the netroots: there is nothing more sacred in American politics than one's vote.  California deserves no less in a Secretary of State than Debra Bowen, and every Californian who cares about elections, should start caring about this race.

    Phil Angelides is a veteran California Democrat with a progressive core.  As California State Treasurer, Angelides initiated two programs that have impacted California families across the state. First, Angelides launched Scholar Share, a savings program that has seen 40,000 California families sock away $170 million for their children's education taxed at the rate of the beneficiary, not the parent. Second, Angelides spearheaded the Extra Credit Teacher Home Purchase Program whereby over 1000 California teachers have purchased their first homes and put down roots in communites that might otherwise seen a revolving door of teachers move in and out. Home ownership, education, innovative programs run with sound fiscal oversight...programs that lend a helping hand to Californians willing to help themselves: these are the mark of Phil Angelides leadership and exactly the focus that California's citizens can expect from Phil as governor.

    Finally, Jerry McNerney is in the race for Congress in CA-11 for two reasons.  First, as Jerry has proven, time and again, he's in it to win. And second, the Democrats in California's 11th district have kept this ardent environmentalist and engineer in the race. Jerry won the June 2006 Democratic primary over the DCCC-favored candidate with 53% of the vote. That story means something: California 11's voters want Jerry McNerney and when the going gets rough, Jerry doesn't quit. Two years ago the Cook report and Larry Sabato wrote off Jerry in CA-11: not this time. In 2006, with strong grassroots support and, critically, the active support of labor and groups like the Defenders of Wildlife Fund, Jerry is taking the battle to Richard Pombo in CA-11 down to the wire.  This election will come down to turn-out and grassroots energy in the precincts. It's critical that the citizens and activists in CA-11 know that they have, in Jerry McNerney, a candidate who will never quit...not this fall, and not when he arrives in Washington in 2007 to provide real leadership for CA-11.


    Now, that's the background for an email exchange and discussion I had with my friend, Matt Lockshin, of SayNotoPombo, expressing some of my thoughts and fears about all three of these races. When I wrote Matt I was brainstorming...I was trying to come up with a blogging strategy and rhetoric that would help all three of these candidates overcome a persistent problem I have with the California Democratic Party: timidity in going after the GOP and a failure to generate a powerful and optimistic message of hope that we can use to energize the grassroots.

    Matt wrote back, like all good friends do, and what he wrote in his email put me in my place. In fact, it was so powerful I asked him if I could share it with you:


    The obvious conclusion stemming from the Lamont victory is that the people in DC don't know what the hell they're talking about. Their "expert" pronouncements about the futility of fighting demoralizes a lot of the Democratic base. We need to convince people that every time they knock on a door or make a phone call for a candidate or issue, a little Democratic angel gets its wings.  

    You see, the point about the Democratic Party is that it cannot continue to be a party of people running for office. It must be our party. We need to see Jerry McNerney and Phil Angelides as our vehicles, not us as theirs. If we're unhappy with the campaigns they're running, then it's our own fault. You think the Democrats in CA don't have the power to go and rattle political cages and make our leaders address our issues in the way we need them to address them? It's not about making them ideologues. It's about ensuring that whatever latitude they have to stray from the Party line is latitude that we give them.  

    Of course, this isn't how things are now. But that's what will happen when people get invested in the Democratic Party instead of allowing themselves the luxury of simply being alienated from it all.   We can't win by not trying.  But if everyone tries, there's nothing that can stop us.


    That's the kind of hopeful and fighting attitude that will help us win all three of these tough races. That's the kind of attitude we Californians can take to every district in the State: whether it's Charlie Brown's battle against John Doolittle in CA-04 or Francine Busby's effort to unseat Brian Bilbray in CA-50, or David Roth's uphill insurgent struggle against Mary Bono in CA-45.  Hell, it's the kind of thinking that should light a torch under every Democratic ass this fall.

    As Matt says, these are our races, these races are about us. And every phone call we make, every dollar we give, every door we knock, every block we walk is one more step in reclaiming this party for our children, our parents and ourselves.

    Matt's vision of a little Democratic Angel getting its wings is funny and spot on.  I couldn't not share it with you.  I hope it brought a smile to your face.

    I'm still frustrated and angry that with GOP opponents like Richard Pombo, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce McPherson that we California Democrats are so lackluster at this point in generating public energy for our cause. But there's one thing I'm sure of: if we do win in November, it will be because of the persistent and determined work of people like Matt Lockshin and thousands of grassroots angels across these United States.


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