All posts by paulhogarth

California Tenants to Have Lobby Day in Sacramento

(Bumped to remind folks about SB 603   – promoted by Brian Leubitz)

California is a deep-blue state, with two-thirds Democratic majorities in both houses of the legislature.  And when landlords tried to repeal rent control at the ballot five years ago, they suffered a massive defeat.  But that doesn’t mean the legislature is pro-tenant.  Every day, real estate lobbyists in Sacramento have their ear – as they spread misinformation & scare tactics about common sense, pro-tenant legislation.

Which is why a Lobby Day on Tuesday, May 7th by Tenants Together to pass SB 603 (security deposit reform) is so unusual.  For the first time in over a decade, dozens of tenants from throughout California will swarm the State Capitol – meeting with legislators about the security deposit crisis, and demanding change.  And the Senate Judiciary Committee will be voting on SB 603 that same afternoon.

Every year, California landlords hold billions of dollars of security deposit money.  For many tenants, it is their largest asset – and yet most never expect to see it back, assuming that it’s merely a “cost” of renting a new apartment.

A Tenants Together survey found that nearly 60% of its members reported having their security deposit unfairly withheld.  Most tenants did not bother to proceed with suing their landlord in small claims court.  And while a new report of three courthouses found that tenants prevail in 70% of such cases, a miniscule number of landlords – only 3.5% of cases – were hit with penalties.

In other words, landlords have impunity to steal your security deposit – knowing that tenants are not likely to sue, and if they do they would simply be required to pay it back (with no penalties) a few months later.

Senate Bill 603 by State Senator Mark Leno would do three things: (a) require landlords to keep tenant deposits in separate accounts, not comingled with their assets, (b) impose automatic penalties against landlords who fail to return deposits and (c) require that landlords pay tenants interest on security deposits, as is the law in many local jurisdictions and a statewide requirement in many other states.

SB 603 is a very modest proposal to better secure money that tenants are required to give to their landlords – but we expect a vigorous fight from the landlord and real estate lobby, who are used to always getting their way in Sacramento.  Tomorrow’s Lobby Day will feature the human side of the issue – with tenants from across the state who will meet with State Senators and their staff, highlighting this issue.

Stay tuned on Wednesday, as we report back on the outcome of Lobby Day.  In the meantime, you can call or write to your State Senator and urge them to vote “yes” on SB 603 by going to this link:…  

Prop 8 Likely to Be Repealed Narrowly; Court to Hear DOMA Today

It is never wise to predict U.S. Supreme Court decisions on oral arguments, or else Obamacare would have been repealed.  Based on the Justices’ line of questioning, however, it appears that they will overrule Proposition 8 – but on narrow grounds that will only affect California.  The Justices spent a significant chunk of time on “standing,” but they will likely consider the Prop 8 supporters as proper litigants.  But Justices Anthony Kennedy and John Roberts had clear problems with finding a “right” to same-sex marriage that would apply nationwide – and the “nine-state” compromise was widely panned.  I predict they will rule Prop 8 unconstitutional by applying the Romer precedent and sustaining the Ninth Circuit decision, i.e., Prop 8 was unique because it “took away” a right that same-sex couples already had.

Today, the Court will hear oral arguments on the federal Defense of Marriage Act – a case whose outcome should be more favorable.  A state can grant marriage to same-sex couples, but we still don’t have equality because DOMA denies them all federal benefits.  I also expect that the standing question in DOMA to be clearer.

Note by Brian: Amy Howe at SCOTUSBlog has a “plain English” review of the DOMA Case. It’s worth a read, as it covers some of the standing issues in that case as well as the merits of the case.

As I reported yesterday, there are five ways the Supreme Court could rule on Prop 8: (1) deny standing to Prop 8 supporters and make us win by default, (2) uphold Prop 8 and deny marriage to California couples, (3) sustain the Ninth Circuit decision that overruled Prop 8, but only in California, (4) overrule Prop 8 in a way that extends same-sex marriage to nine states or (5) extend marriage equality to all 50 states.

Standing Dominates Oral Arguments, But Court Likely to Rule on Merits

Unlike today’s DOMA arguments, the Supreme Court did not set aside time for the Prop 8 litigants to discuss “standing” – but Chief Justice John Roberts made all 3 lawyers yesterday explain their position at the outset.  This led to a robust back-and-forth, and many commentators now predict the Court will “punt” on Prop 8 – allowing same-sex marriage in California because the appeal was improper.

Here’s why I don’t believe that will happen.  The conservatives will vote to grant standing, as Samuel Alito argued that the whole point of an initiative process is to allow citizens to bypass elected officials.  But “swing” vote Anthony Kennedy also expressed concern that dismissing a case because the Governor & Attorney General refused to defend Prop 8 would result in a “one-way ratchet.”  Even liberal Sonia Sotomayor added that Ted Olson was not answering the “fundamental fear” of such a precedent.  The Justices asked about standing, but the votes are there to grant it.

Justices Not Likely to Determine Same-Sex Marriage a ‘Fundamental Right’

It was clear from the oral arguments that the 4 liberal Justices – Sonia Sotomayor, Elana Kagan, Stephen Breyer & Ruth Bader Ginsburg – believe that Prop 8 is unconstitutional, and probably that same-sex marriage is a fundamental right.  But while Anthony Kennedy – and even John Roberts – made some favorable comments, both were uncomfortable with the idea of expanding gay marriage to all 50 states.

The Obama Administration argued that Prop 8 is unconstitutional, wherever states grant civil unions or domestic partnerships to same-sex couples – but denied the right to marry.  Dubbed the “nine-state solution,” this ruling would have extended marriage equality to nine states including California – which sounded like a good political compromise.  But Justices from both sides of the spectrum blasted it for being legally and logistically inconsistent.  As the Huffington Post wrote, it probably just confused them.

Will Kennedy (and Roberts?) Vote to Uphold the Ninth Circuit Decision?

This leaves us with two possible outcomes: upholding Prop 8 (thereby putting the Court on the wrong side of history), or repealing Prop 8 in a narrow enough way that it only affects California.  Justices Kagan, Ginsburg and Sotomayor all asked questions that zeroed in on that option – perhaps as a means of getting a fifth vote.

Last year, the Ninth Circuit overruled Prop 8 because it actually repealed a right to same-sex marriage that the state had granted.  This makes Prop 8 unique among all other anti-gay marriage amendments because, applying the Romer precedent, it was malicious.

At one point, Justice Kennedy was uncomfortable with making same-sex marriage a fundamental right – calling it a “broad argument” that was far more extensive than the Ninth Circuit’s ruling.  But he then went on to call the Ninth Circuit’s ruling on Prop 8 a “very odd rationale” – which is disturbing.  However, it’s clear from reading the transcript (relevant passage is on page 42) that Kennedy was confusing what the Ninth Circuit had said on Prop 8.

Kennedy wrote the Romer decision in 1996, which overruled a Colorado state initiative that repealed non-discrimination ordinances.  The Ninth Circuit decision on Prop 8 heavily relied on Kennedy’s reasoning in Romer.  As a friend of mine said yesterday, “hopefully, his clerks will clear up the confusion.”

Would Roberts be a sixth vote to repeal Prop 8 on these narrow grounds?  At some points in the oral arguments, Roberts seemed amenable to the idea that Prop 8 not only denied same-sex marriage in California – it did so after the state Court found it was a right.  While less likely to do so than Kennedy, Roberts may do the right thing.

DOMA More Likely to Be Repealed, Paving Way for Full Marriage Equality

As I wrote when the California Supreme Court first granted same-sex marriage in 2008, we will never get real marriage equality until we repeal the Defense of Marriage Act.  

Even in states where gay couples can get married, DOMA denies them any and all federal benefits – such as joint tax returns, Social Security benefits, immigration or military benefits.  Don’t Ask Don’t Tell may be gone, but gays in the military don’t get benefits for their spouse or partner.  If your husband is an immigrant, they can still get deported – even if you live in a state like Connecticut with same-sex marriage.

And in the case of Edith Windsor, who married her wife in Canada and then moved to New York, she was hit with $363,000 in federal estate taxes after her wife died.  If they had been a straight married couple, she would have been exempt from that.

Unlike the Prop 8 lawsuit, which was filed over serious objections by civil rights lawyers, the federal case against DOMA has been painstakingly planned for years.  The plaintiffs are legally married (no one disputes that), but the federal government is violating equal protection.  The strategy was to file several DOMA lawsuits across the country in various circuits, so by the time the Supreme Court hears it today we will have had multiple cases with a consistent string of victories.

DOMA, which President Clinton signed in 1996, does two things: (a) it denies all federal benefits to same-sex couples, regardless of their marital status and (b) it allows states to block recognition of gay marriages performed in other states.  Today’s lawsuit only challenges the former, but a Supreme Court victory would bring tangible benefits to thousands of married gay couples in America – not to mention the economic impact on states that have granted marriage equality.

Just like Prop 8, the federal government has refused to defend DOMA – forcing House Republicans to intervene as third parties.  The Supreme Court will rule on whether they have standing, and it’s clear that our odds are better than in Prop 8.  

Because Prop 8 was a citizen initiative, it can be argued that – in the absence of the state government defending it – those who collected signatures to place it on the ballot may “substitute” in to represent the state’s “interest.”  But DOMA was an Act of Congress, signed into law by the President.  Both Bob Barr (who wrote DOMA as a Congressman) and Bill Clinton (who signed it into law) have disavowed DOMA, and argue that it should be repealed.  An amicus brief has been filed by four U.S. Senators who voted for DOMA – and now argue that it was a mistake, and must be overruled.

Stay tuned for tomorrow, as I assess how the oral arguments on DOMA went.

Paul Hogarth has a J.D. from Golden Gate University Law School, and is licensed to practice law in California.  He was a legal intern at Equality California in the summer of 2005, was active in Bloggers Against Prop 8, organized volunteers in 2009 who traveled to Maine for the marriage campaign, live-blogged the Prop 8 trial for the Courage Campaign in January 2010 and in 2012 worked as a Campaign Consultant for United for Marriage – a project that sent volunteers to Maine, Maryland, Minnesota & Washington to supplement campaign field efforts.  Follow him on Twitter at @paulhogarth.

The Moment is Now: Prop 8 Comes to the Supreme Court

Today, the United States Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on Proposition 8.  It’s a moment the legal civil rights community had avoided for years, fearing the risks involved – and choosing more incremental approaches, like challenging the Defense of Marriage Act (the Court will hear oral arguments on DOMA tomorrow.)  But once the Prop 8 trial went underway in January 2010, a sense of optimism grew that things would go our way.  And with four states voting to affirm marriage rights for same-sex couples last November, followed by a cascade of elected officials in recent weeks coming out in support, we all know that it’s only a matter of time.  For our conservative opponents, they have known since Day One of the Trial that their saving grace would be five Justices on the Supreme Court – which remains a possibility.  After the Court hears arguments today, they will deliberate and issue a decision in June.  The following are five possible ways they could rule …  

Option 1: Deny Standing to Prop 8 Supporters

One reason why this case took so long to get to the U.S. Supreme Court (more than 4 years after Prop 8 passed, and more than 2 years after the Trial commenced) was that the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals spent much of 2011 reviewing the question of standing.  Because California Governor Jerry Brown and Attorney General Kamala Harris have refused to defend Prop 8, the question came down to whether its right-wing proponents had “standing” to appeal Judge Vaughn Walker’s decision.

A litigant must have suffered an “injury” to have standing, and Prop 8 proponents have failed to articulate why they – as private right-wing citizens, rather than the government – would be harmed by letting same-sex couples marry.  The Supreme Court could rule they don’t have standing, which would allow Judge Walker’s original decision to hold.  Prop 8 would be overturned and gay couples could marry, but the decision would have no effect beyond California – and there would be no legal precedent on the question of whether such anti-gay measures are unconstitutional.

But I don’t expect the Supreme Court to rule that way for several reasons.  First, the question was exhaustively litigated – the Ninth Circuit even punted it back to the California Supreme Court, who ruled that Prop 8 supporters had standing.  Because Prop 8 was a “citizen initiative,” it can be argued the drafters step into the shoes of elected officials – and “represent” the state for this limited purpose.

In a sign that it’s not likely to be found, the U.S. Supreme Court has set aside time for “standing” on DOMA oral arguments tomorrow – where the Obama Administration has likewise refused to defend an anti-gay law, and right-wing proponents have had to step in to “represent” the federal government.  But the Court has not done the same for Prop 8, which suggests that they want to go to the merits of the question.

Regardless of the outcome, Prop 8 will likely be decided on the merits.

Option 2: Uphold Prop 8, Reversing the Lower Courts

The Supreme Court could uphold Prop 8, depriving same-sex couples of the right to marry and forcing advocates in California to repeal it at the ballot box.  This is the outcome the civil rights community has dreaded for years – that filing a lawsuit in federal court was “too risky,” “too soon” and could set back the LGBT community.

Right-wing proponents of Prop 8 have counted on a 5-4 win at the Supreme Court all along.  Back in January 2010, on the first day of trial Brian Brown of the anti-gay National Organization for Marriage wrote in an e-mail: “We do not expect to win at the trial level. But with God’s help, at least five members of the current Supreme Court will have the courage to defend our Constitution from this grave attack.”

But a lot has changed since 2010.  A solid majority of Americans now support the freedom to marry (especially in California), and last November three states – Maine, Maryland & Washington – voted to grant marriage for same-sex couples, and in Minnesota voters defeated an anti-gay amendment.  The latter is significant, because until then opponents could argue that “the people” had always voted on their side.

While the Supreme Court doesn’t want to be seen as “judicial activists,” they also don’t want to be on the wrong side of history.  And Chief Justice John Roberts, in particular, is leery of the Court’s right-wing image.  Some have even speculated this was why he voted to uphold Obamacare – so the Court’s conservative majority would have the political space to wreak havoc on more low-profile cases.  Throw liberals a victory on Prop 8, and it distracts the public from their other Supreme Court cases.

I predict the Court will repeal Prop 8, although my opinion may change after hearing today’s oral arguments.  Even so, there are three possible ways the Court could rule that would overrule Prop 8 – and grant marriage rights for California gay couples.

Option 3: Repeal Prop 8, But Only for California

The Court could uphold the Ninth Circuit decision – which repealed Prop 8 on narrow grounds.  Unlike other anti-gay marriage amendments passed in 32 other states, Prop 8 was unique because it affirmatively took away the right from same-sex couples – after they had it for six months.  There was no basis except “animus” – which the Court in Romer v. Evans (1996) concluded was not rational, after a Colorado initiative repealed all anti-gay nondiscrimination laws.

Justice Anthony Kennedy – the “swing” vote – wrote the Court opinion in Romer v. Evans, and the Ninth Circuit decision was clearly written with him in mind.  It would not force Kennedy to do anything besides repeat what he said in Romer, and would allow the Court to repeal Prop 8 – but in such a way that it could only apply to California.  It would not require them to answer the question of whether anti-gay discrimination requires a higher level of scrutiny, such as race or gender.

One year ago, a narrow Supreme Court opinion that only applies to California was the best we could hope for.  But the political landscape on this issue has changed dramatically, which suggests that the Court could go further.  Marriage equality supporters – from the Prop 8 plaintiffs to President Obama – will be arguing for a broader ruling, which could lead to one of the following two outcomes.

Option 4: Repeal Prop 8 via the Nine-State Solution

In its amicus brief supporting the Plaintiffs, the Obama Justice Department argued that Prop 8 should be repealed – because for a state to grant civil unions, but not marriage, for gay couples violates equal protection.  In today’s oral arguments, Solicitor General Theodore Boutros will get time to argue this point.

If the Court overrules Prop 8 on these grounds, it will apply to California and eight other states – Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon and Rhode Island.  There is no compelling reason or rational basis to determine that gay couples should have all the legal benefits of a domestic partnership – but to then deny them marriage.  In five of these states – Delaware, Illinois, Rhode Island, New Jersey & Hawaii – efforts are underway to pass a marriage bill in the legislature, and could pass later this year.  In Oregon, which passed a similar amendment to Prop 8 in 2004, advocates are collecting signature to repeal the ban in November 2014.  

Supreme Court Justices are leery of being “too far” ahead of the people.  Even Ruth Bader Ginsburg recently said that – while Roe v. Wade was a right decision, politically it engendered a backlash and that perhaps the Court should have waited.  But a ruling on these grounds is not too ambitious.  After all, a majority of voters in these states generally support same-sex marriage – and in some cases, a legislative solution is imminent.  The Supreme Court would simply be doing the inevitable.

Option 5: Grant Marriage Equality to All 50 States

While the Justice Department will argue the more incremental “Nine-State Solution,” lawyers Ted Olson and David Boies will argue that the Supreme Court should grant marriage to same-sex couples as a Constitutional right.  Marriage is a fundamental right – and just like the Court in 1967 found it unconstitutional to deny marriage for interracial couples, the same can be said to gay couples today.  This would apply the same ruling that Trial Court Judge Vaughn Walker originally made for this case.

Such a ruling would have the same broad historic sweep that Roe v. Wade had for abortion rights, and Brown v. Board of Education did for the civil rights movement.  Which is why most observers (including myself) doubt that the U.S. Supreme Court, with its inherently conservative inclinations, would go that far.  We are on the right side of history, but the Court may fear a political backlash if a Prop 8 decision would apply to states like Texas, Alaska, Oklahoma or Mississippi.

But in last Sunday’s New York Times, columnist Frank Bruni made a compelling argument as to why such a ruling would not result in the kind of reaction we have seen with Roe and other such cases.  

“The abortion debate grinds on in part because to those who believe that life begins at conception and warrants full protection from then on, every pro-choice victory claims victims,” writes Bruni. “But the legalization of same-sex marriage takes nothing from anyone, other than the illusion – which is all it is and ever was – that healthy, nurturing relationships are reserved for people of opposite sexes.”

Which brings us back to the standing question.  Despite having strong political and religious feelings about the issue, how are opponents “harmed” by same-sex couples getting married – and having their relationship recognized by the law?  If the Court applied the best legal arguments, Prop 8 would be overruled on the standing issue alone.  But the Courts don’t always follow the best arguments – after all, the Justices are just well-connected lawyers with robes, who are influenced by political factors.

Which is why we can hope that the Supreme Court goes with Option #5 – and grants marriage equality to all 50 states.  But no one should really expect them to …

Stay Tuned Tomorrow, as Paul Hogarth analyzes the Prop 8 Oral Arguments – and offers a preview of the Supreme Court’s oral arguments on DOMA.  On March 28th, the San Francisco LGBT Community Center will host a re-cap of the oral arguments with attorneys from the ACLU and the National Center for Lesbian Rights from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m..

Paul Hogarth has a J.D. from Golden Gate University Law School, and is licensed to practice law in California.  He was a legal intern at Equality California in the summer of 2005, was active in Bloggers Against Prop 8, organized volunteers in 2009 who traveled to Maine for the marriage campaign, live-blogged the Prop 8 trial for the Courage Campaign in January 2010 and in 2012 worked as a Campaign Consultant for United for Marriage – a project that sent volunteers to Maine, Maryland, Minnesota & Washington to supplement campaign field efforts.  Follow him on Twitter at @paulhogarth.

“It’s Your Money” – Campaign Launches to Protect California Tenants from Security Deposit Theft

Hey folks!!  Glad to report that I’m currently volunteering at Tenants Together, California’s only statewide renters’ rights organization.  We have kicked off this campaign today to help tenants recover their security deposits.  Check out our new website, and stay tuned for possible legislative changes. –Paul

by Paul Hogarth

Earlier today, Tenants Together announced the launch of “It’s Your Money,” a new campaign to stop security deposit theft by California landlords. The campaign website,, features know-your-rights information for tenants, tips on how to protect deposits, tenant stories and policy recommendations. The site allows tenants to share their security deposit horror stories.

Security deposit theft is one of the most common grievances among California’s 15 million renters. In a recent survey, over 60% of Tenants Together members reported improper withholding of deposit money. This is an astonishing figure, but not one that surprises anyone working with California tenants.

“Millions of dollars are being stolen from tenants every year,” commented Dean Preston, Executive Director of Tenants Together, California’s statewide organization for renters’ rights. “It’s gotten so bad that tenants paying their security deposits don’t ever expect to see that money again. Something has got to change.”

Unlike in many other states, California law does not require deposit money to be held in a separate account, does not require a landlord to pay interest on the deposit to tenants, and rarely imposes any penalty on landlords that improperly withhold deposits.

The “It’s Your Money” campaign seeks to change the dynamic and bring about basic fairness when it comes to security deposits. The campaign coalition is united around three basic principles:

1. Deposit money should not be comingled with other landlord assets

2. Tenants deserve interest on security deposits

3. Landlords who improperly withhold deposits must face meaningful penalties

For more information about the campaign, visit  

Jane Kim’s “Fifty-Nine Precinct Strategy”

Much has been written about how Jane Kim beat San Francisco’s “progressive machine” last week to win the District 6 Supervisor race.  But a precinct analysis of the election results tells a far bigger story, and explains how she pulled it off.  Just like Howard Dean’s Fifty State Strategy helped Democrats win nationwide, Jane Kim was everywhere – and conceded no part of District 6.  Debra Walker carried the North Mission and a few progressive pockets, but racking up margins in some core precincts is not enough when your opponent actively contests every neighborhood.  Kim beat Walker in the Tenderloin (where she had a better operation), and easily won the Chinese precincts – but also carried places like Treasure Island and the Western Addition.  And as Jane’s field coordinator for condos in Eastern SOMA, I’m very proud she won those precincts by a landslide – as we were the only campaign to show up.  These were the Rob Black voters of 2006, but Kim proved that even a progressive can win those neighborhoods – if you bother to talk to them.

The changing demographics of District 6 has been talked about for years.  Chris Daly first won the seat with 81% of the vote, but that was before places like Rincon Hill and Mission Bay got thousands of new condos.  By 2006, Daly was in trouble.  Progressives suddenly had to turn out Tenderloin SRO residents in droves, just to save his re-election.  

I was part of that effort four years ago, and it was both physically and emotionally exhausting.  We managed to get SRO turnout to match the citywide average in that election (which is incredible), and Daly won.  But the map could not have been more polarizing – with Rob Black sweeping the newer SOMA precincts, and Daly winning progressive strongholds.

Back then, a lot of us knew that 2006 was the “final hurrah” for the Chris Daly coalition.  If progressives were serious about keeping District 6, they must learn how to round up “more than the usual suspects” – regardless of who the candidate would be.  Winning in progressive places like the Tenderloin and North Mission would no longer be enough.

One of the keys to Jane Kim’s success was that the campaign never conceded a single neighborhood — forming a Fifty-Nine Precinct Strategy that met voters in every corner of District 6.  Arguably, because she lacked the big progressive institutional endorsements, it was the only way she could win to outmaneuver Debra Walker.

Like Chris Daly, Jane Kim won the Tenderloin – because she had a base of SRO tenants and immigrant families.  It takes months of campaigning for a candidate to build trust in that neighborhood, and Kim’s relationship with local community organizers made that possible.  Walker campaigned in the Tenderloin, but Kim beat her there by 140 votes.

Of course, Kim’s campaign had a formidable “Chinese team” – whose outreach to the District’s Chinese voters allowed her to rack up huge margins in two SOMA precincts, as well as pad her Tenderloin numbers.  But she also had a Pilipino team that organized that community in SOMA, and Russian phone-bankers reached out to its senior population.

As the favorite of progressive institutions like the Bay Guardian, the Labor Council and the SF Democratic Party, Debra Walker had a huge advantage in the North Mission and Western SOMA – where many voters follow the slate-cards.  But Kim had a strong field presence there, which kept her losses under control.  She won two Mission precincts and tied in a third, while holding Walker’s lead in four Western SOMA precincts down to six votes.

District 6 has the Tenderloin, SOMA and North Mission – but some voters live in pockets that don’t fall into those neighborhoods.  Kim campaigned in those areas, such as the Freedom West Homes in the Western Addition.  Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi, whose District 5 borders the housing project, took Jane canvassing there one day – and we learned many voters in that precinct mistakenly thought Mirkarimi was their Supervisor.  Kim won that precinct, as well as hard-to-reach parts of District 6 like Treasure Island – and house-boats in Mission Bay.

When I agreed to lead the Jane Kim campaign’s volunteer “condo team” for SOMA, I assumed it was to make sure we did not get slaughtered there.  After all, these were the Rob Black voters who almost threw out Chris Daly four years ago.  With Theresa Sparks getting Downtown money and the Mayor’s endorsement, they would be her natural supporters.

That turned out not to be the case.  On the one hand, we were lucky that Sparks did not campaign much.  But frankly, Debra Walker’s campaign was invisible in South Beach.  And as we knocked on doors in high-rises near the Ballpark and Cal-Train station, we found a surprising level of support.  On Election Day, voters at 4th & King told us we were the only campaign they knew about.

Granted, we did get the occasional condo voter who asked questions like “where does Jane stand on sit/lie?” or “how is she going to pay for this?” – and I have no idea if those people ended up voting for her.  If asked, we did not pander – we told them the truth, even if it lost us some votes.  But we focused on pitching her biography as a Stanford and Berkeley graduate, who is a civil rights attorney.  And Jane Kim was the kind of young professional these voters could relate to.

The election results were staggering.  In the thirteen precincts that make up South Beach, Mission Bay & Eastern SOMA, Kim won handily with 1,113 votes – followed by 823 votes for Sparks, and 564 for Walker.  In the Ranked Choice Voting tabulation, Sparks supporters preferred Kim – and Kim even beat Sparks among the Matt Drake voters.

An important lesson for progressives is not to fear those District 6 condo voters – but to instead set aside your pre-conceived notions, and come to their neighborhood.  A lot of them voted for Jane Kim, even if they knew she’s a progressive – because she was there.

Yesterday, the blog Live-SoMa – which covers local neighborhood and political issues – offered its analysis:  “While [Jane’s] opposition thinks she won because she’s young, pretty, articulate, and so on (all great qualities to have as a politician), I still think it had more to do with her overall presence throughout the Community.  It’s as if she made it her personal mission to hang a flier on every door in District 6, and she certainly tried to shake every hand – moreso than any other Candidate.  I even saw her walking down the hall in my building one Sunday Afternoon, and we’re all renters … renters don’t vote!”

On Friday night, after the Ranked Choice Voting tabulation confirmed her the winner, Jane Kim had a party for her supporters – which I attended.  “Anyone could have done what we did,” she said, “but it takes a lot of work.”

Campaigning in all 59 precincts is a lot of work.  Executing a Fifty-Nine Precinct Strategy is a lot of work.  Conceding no neighborhood is a lot of work.  But anyone can do it …

Paul Hogarth is the Managing Editor of Beyond Chron, where this piece was first published.  He lives and works in San Francisco’s District 6, and considered running himself for the seat this year – before backing out and supporting Jane Kim.

Prop 25 is Most Essential Part of November Ballot

The California Secretary of State’s Office has assigned numbers to all the November ballot measures, so now we know that passing Proposition 25 and defeating Proposition 26 are absolutely essential.  The two-thirds requirement for passing a budget has paralyzed our state every year, and Prop 25 would end the extortion by a vocal minority of right-wing Republicans.  The only question is whether Democrats and progressives will run the kind of smart campaign that makes voters want to pass Prop 25, building a statewide coalition that rounds up more than just the usual suspects.  While some are upset that Prop 25 keeps the two-thirds rule for tax increases, it is imperative for progressives to make its passage a #1 priority – as it would at least allow the state to pass a budget, and the legislature could still raise revenue thru fees.  But Prop 26, also on the November ballot, would make an untenable problem worse – by counting fees as “taxes.”  While we pass Prop 25, every effort must be made to defeat Prop 26.

As Sacramento is once again mired in an intractable budget crisis, the culprit is by now well known.  California is one of only three states in the country to require a two-thirds super-majority to pass the budget – and with Republicans stuck in a permanent minority, their only resort is to obstruct.  Moreover, every one of them signed a pact in blood never to vote for a single tax increase whatsoever.

But even when Democrats take taxes off the table, they refuse – GOP State Senator Abel Maldonado only voted for last year’s budget after the legislature agreed to put a couple irrelevant propositions on the state ballot, and in years past Republicans have demanded offshore oil drilling and repealing labor laws.

Meanwhile, schools are a disaster, hospitals close down, local governments struggle and a new wave of activists are protesting the inevitable budget cuts.  At this point, failure is not an option.

But the movement to repeal the “two-thirds rule” has been divided and dispirited – with Professor George Lakoff’s initiative to get majority rule for the budget and taxes failing to qualify.  Proposition 25 was put on by labor unions and the Democratic Party, and political consultant Roger Salazar has been retained.  Liberal bloggers and other progressives are skeptical, with some going so far as to claim it doesn’t make sense to get a majority for the budget – if raising taxes we need would still require a two-thirds vote.

They are mistaken, and we need their energy to pass Proposition 25 now more than ever.  In fact, the two sides cannot win without each other’s active support – because we need a coherent political strategy.  And there’s a lot the progressive grassroots can bring to this.

In 2004, California voters defeated – in every county except San Francisco – Prop 56, which would have ended the two-thirds rule for the budget and taxes.  All it took was for opponents to run commercials asking if we want to “make it easy for politicians to raise taxes,” and it was dead.  But that’s not the only reason why it lost – voters are inclined to reject propositions they don’t understand, and you can’t just put a measure on the ballot and expect it to prevail on the merits.  Winning requires a serious grassroots investment.

But messaging is also important – and so far, the Prop 25 campaign is repeating some of the same mistakes.  For example, they call it the “On-Time Budget Act” – and they hope that voters will respond to the message that Prop 25 will “end gridlock.”  There’s even a provision that legislators can’t get paid if the budget doesn’t pass on time, which was also part of the doomed Prop 56.  In other words, their plan is to tap into anger at Sacramento that spans across the spectrum – without directing blame at one political party or another.

This can’t work for a few reasons.  First, voters don’t pay close enough attention to know that the budget never passes on time – and it’s naïve to think that a majority-vote budget would end gridlock.  The problem is not gridlock – but extortionist deals by a handful of Orange County and Central Valley politicians who abuse the process every year.  We live in a blue state, and Democrats should not be afraid to say that Prop 25 is about ending the Republican politicians (a “tyranny of the minority”) who want to kill government.

In fact, a campaign that capitalizes on how much everyone hates the legislature might end up helping Proposition 26 – whose passage would make our terrible system even worse.  Right now, the only way we have avoided the worst budget cuts is that fees (unlike taxes) only require a simple majority to pass.  Prop 26 (which the right-wing put on the ballot) would re-define all fee increases as “taxes” – not just in Sacramento, but locally as well.

But the biggest problem with calling it the On-Time Budget Act is it keeps the focus on Sacramento – and the legislative process.

The reasons California needs Prop 25 are not academic.  Our budget dysfunction has had a real impact on the state’s economy.  Unemployment is sky-high, school funding has declined to the point we will be 50th in per-pupil spending, community clinics have shut down and parks are in trouble.  Californians are outraged, and it’s our responsibility to show them that we can’t afford not to pass Prop 25.

That means our campaign has to be about the students at UC who are facing tuition hikes (every Cal student who chained themselves to Wheeler Auditorium needs to work on this campaign); the school teacher who is getting pink-slipped from her job; the nurses facing budget cuts at their hospital; the firefighters who must go without proper equipment; and we even need the conservative prison guards union to be out there supporting this.  All these people are more compelling and persuasive than Democrats in the State Capitol.

Another way to win?  Get out of San Francisco, and go where the votes are in California.  As I reported on the night we defeated Prop 16, statewide campaigns are won and lost in L.A. County – and Prop 25 will have to do well there.  Another reasons we defeated PG&E on Prop 16 was an unusual high level of support from the Central Valley – conservative counties who had been disgusted by the utility company.  “No on 16” did a great job reaching out to more Republican-leaning groups – refusing to concede any constituency in the state.

Because Prop 25 only applies to passing the budget (and not raising taxes), we may get an unusual ally in this effort – conservative Republican Tom McClintock.

A former State Senator who now serves in Congress, McClintock endorsed the concept of eliminating the “two-thirds rule” for budgets back in 2007.  McClintock’s politics are far-right, but unlike other Republicans is often willing to take an independent, principled and ideologically consistent stance.  He will not be an ally on defeating Prop 26, but the “Yes on 25” campaign should ask for his endorsement – and then shoot an ad.

Quite a few other propositions on the November ballot also affect the state budget:

Prop 19 – Legalize marijuana, and allow (but not mandate) taxing it.  This has been in the news lately in the context of the budget crisis, but Prop 19 itself does not raise revenue.  How taxes or fees would be raised for marijuana is not spelled out.

Prop 21 – Raise the Vehicle License Fee by $18, and registered cars that paid that fee will get free admission at California’s State Parks.  Prop 21 would also set aside a Parks Fund from fees paid into the park, so that the Governor and legislature can’t touch that money.

Prop 22 – Prohibit the state from stealing transportation funds from local government to balance its budget.  Arnold has been guilty of committing this on a number of occasions.

Prop 24 – Repeals corporate tax breaks the legislature passed in 2009 – which the GOP minority demanded in order to get the two-thirds majority needed to pass the budget.

Paul Hogarth is the Managing Editor of Beyond Chron, San Francisco’s Alternative Online Daily, where this piece was first published.

As Prop 8 Trial Concludes, Study Shows Risk of Rushing to Ballot

Today, the Proposition 8 trial in San Francisco Federal Court will hear its long-awaited closing arguments – as gay marriage advocates prepare to return to the ballot.  And a new study conducted by the Haas Jr. Foundation looks at pre-election polling data from 33 states that passed anti-gay marriage initiatives.  It concludes (a) we always do worse than what polls say, and (b) voters don’t change their minds about this issue during campaigns.  The lesson, of course, is that we must work harder to move hearts and minds – and that work can’t be done in a short election season.  Sadly, the implications of this study will strike many as discouraging – was all the money, time and energy we spent in California and Maine somehow a waste?  It’s true gay marriage is a sensitive topic that voters develop hard feelings about that can’t be changed overnight.  But the study did not focus on the small sliver of “persuadable” voters in each election who decide the outcome.

The Haas Jr. Foundation hired NYU political scientist Patrick J. Egan to study 167 polls in the 33 states that had a gay marriage ban from 1998-2009 – and compared it with the results on Election Day.  And as we already knew – having painfully experienced this in state after state – the results after votes are counted are worse than what polls had said.  Moreover, as Dr. Egan reported, poll results throughout the campaign were mostly static.

Did people lie?  Yes and no.  Egan’s analysis showed that polls accurately predicted the pro-equality vote – i.e., people who voted “no” on Prop 8 – but that they undercounted people who voted to ban gay marriage.  So if a pre-election poll would show us winning a plurality of 48-45 (which campaigns find encouraging), it would mean that we lost 52-48.  

Respondents didn’t tell pollsters they were going to vote “no” and voted “yes” – the so-called Bradley effect where voters want to give the “politically correct” answer.  What instead happened is that embarrassed voters said they were undecided.  Which is why, said Geoff Kors of Equality California, we should only go to the ballot after polls show a majority who plan to go our way.  “Once people are for equality, we don’t see slippage.”

Voters are also not confused about which position – “yes” or “no” – is pro-gay marriage in ballot campaigns.  In California, the “No on 8” side wasted enormous efforts trying to make sure that San Franciscans knew the right way to vote.  In Maine, the “No on 1” campaign also spent a lot of time educating the base – but my anecdotal experience was that we saw more confusion there.

Egan’s analysis debunks the “confusion” theory because (a) we would have found it less of a factor in more educated and politically motivated states; and (b) if it was a problem at the start of a campaign, polls closer to the election would have gotten more accurate.

So why the discrepancy?  Egan speculated that pollsters screened out “yes” voters more than “no” voters – leading to skewed samples.  I believe that’s valid, because those who oppose gay marriage are less comfortable talking about the issue in general to people.

A second theory, which Egan said was “unlikely,” is that there was a substantial shift in opinion during the final days.  Again, this goes back to the general theme of the study that political campaigns don’t change voters’ opinions on this issue.  But having gone to Maine twice in October 2009, I believe there was a major change during the final week.  We lost the election by six points, but my understanding is we won the early absentees.

At yesterday’s press conference, Egan was asked about Figure 1 from his study – featured here – that showed a visible bump in the final week before an election.  “It’s very small and statistically insignificant,” he said – saying it only accounted for about 1%.

But what the data doesn’t show is who that one-percent shift was.  Without question, same-sex marriage is an issue where the vast majority of voters on each side already made up their minds – and no amount of campaigning would change their opinions.  Elections come down to just the sliver of undecided voters – maybe five percent – who don’t know or think much about the issue.  A 1% shift could be 20% of those people.

After Maine passed Question 1, the Washington DC think tank Third Way did a post-election poll that zeroed in on “movable middle” voters.  They produced a great study that argued we lost because of voters who support civil unions, but had not made the connection on marriage.  Their report offers an excellent guide to “reframing” the issue for this targeted group.

Frank Schubert famously told a gathering they were going to lose Prop 8 – until he and Jeff Flynt decided to bank the whole campaign on fears that your children would have to learn about gay marriage in public schools.  In the final week, “Yes on 1” in Maine shot an ad that endorsed civil unions.  Their right-wing base was nonplussed, but it may have swung the election.

Could a campaign in Maine or California have won marriage equality – if we had done a better job persuading swing voters in the short span of an election season?  The best part of yesterday’s press conference was when Geoff Kors of Equality California explained what happened when gay marriage activists had more time to change hearts and minds.  

For the first several months of 2008 – long before the Prop 8 campaign began in earnest –

EQCA ran a project in Santa Barbara County called Let California Ring.  The goal was to start conversations about marriage outside the pressure of an election – via house parties, canvassing and a TV ad campaign that tapped into peoples’ emotions.  The project did not achieve all of its goals due to inconsistent fundraising, but it laid the groundwork for “No on 8” locally.

Santa Barbara became the only county in Southern California to reject Prop 8.  While the state moved nine points towards equality between Prop 22 in 2000 and Prop 8 in 2008, Santa Barbara County shifted a whopping 24 points.  There is no question Let California Ring played a role, and the work that groups like EQCA and the Courage Campaign (with its regular Camp Courage) is doing now will eventually repeal Prop 8.

I’m just not willing to give up the idea that electoral campaigns matter …

Paul Hogarth is the Managing Editor of Beyond Chron, San Francisco’s Alternative Online Daily, where this piece was first published.  He was a summer intern at Equality California in 2005 when the California legislature passed its first marriage equality bill, and was heavily involved in Maine’s “No on 1” campaign to help make travel arrangements for out-of-state volunteers.

Despite Spending $46 Million, California Rejects PG&E

I’ve been a political campaign junkie for years.  And the frustrating part about this job is that after going to Election Night parties, I have to go home and write about it for readers to view the next morning.  So if a particular race takes the whole night to resolve, I could be up very late.  But I had no problem sticking around the “No on 16” campaign party last night until 1:00 a.m. – monitoring the results with Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi, State Senator Mark Leno and our good friends at TURN.  Because last night’s defeat of Prop 16 was one of the most historic victories in California history.  Outspent over 1,000-to-one by a monster utility company, consumer advocates defeated by a 52-47 margin an odious measure that would have cemented PG&E’s monopoly. To call this a David & Goliath victory does not give it justice.  As my friend Robert Cruickshank wrote at Calitics, it’s like “an ant taking down an elephant.”  Oh, and Prop 17 failed too.

PG&E is desperate to stop community choice aggregation – where local governments can purchase energy to offer their constituents a “public option” to the company’s monopoly.  Proposition 16 would have required a two-thirds vote of the electorate before cities can do community choice aggregation, and cynically dubbed it the Taxpayer’s Right to Vote.

Never mind that taxpayers already have the right to vote out their elected officials – if they don’t support community choice aggregation.  Never mind that ratepayers were not given the chance on voting for PG&E as their energy provider.  Public power is not even one of my top “issues,” but I was outraged that PG&E would try something like Prop 16.

PG&E shattered campaign spending records with $46 million to pass Prop 16 – ratepayer money that we give them every month when we pay our energy bills.  The only organized opposition was TURN (the Utility Reform Network), who only raised $90,000.  Bloggers got creative by making “No on 16” videos, and a hilarious Twitter feed.  But the campaign often seemed like a rag-tag army tilting at the windmills.

When I arrived at the “No on 16” party at Otis Lounge around 9:30 p.m., the results were looking bad.  We were down by about three points, but the night was still young.  Having watched statewide campaigns for years, I knew it would ultimately come down to Los Angeles County – so I quickly went online to check how we were doing down there.

Not good.  The early absentees had Prop 16 winning L.A. County by 13 points, far worse than where we were statewide.  If this kept on during the night, it was going to be painful.  The public power entity in Los Angeles had just raised rates, and folks at the party said it may be why Prop 16 was doing so well.  Small comfort for the largest county in the state.

Mark Toney of TURN was saying we should be proud that we held PG&E to such a close margin, after having been outspent nearly 1,000-to-one – but I cringed when I heard that.  We were losing.  Sure, we were doing pretty well in Northern California – where people know and hate PG&E, but we were getting creamed down south.  Where the votes are.

But as the night wore on, some folks pointed out how well we were doing in counties like Fresno, Madera, and Mariposa.  These are conservative places in the Central Valley, but PG&E had alienated these customers with “smart meters.”  I checked how we were doing in San Benito County – which political junkies often say is the bellwether of California state politics.  We were slightly ahead in San Benito County, but only by about 50 votes.

And the L.A. County numbers were trickling in – slowly, but surely.  We were still losing there, but the margin was noticeably trending in our favor.  By now, everyone at the party was huddled around a small number of laptops – while I double-checked the Secretary of State’s website with what individual counties were saying.  Places like San Diego and Orange County were coming in where we were behind, but we were not losing ground.

Pretty soon, our three-point loss became a one-point lead – and there was a palpable sense in the air that we could win it.  I wasn’t convinced yet – scouring the L.A. County numbers to see if this positive trend in our favor was not going to start reversing itself.

When 58% of L.A. County had been counted, we were ahead there.  I got up, and boldly shouted that we had won.  It reminded me of the scene in Milk, when Jim Rivaldo tells Harvey Milk not to worry about the Briggs Initiative.  L.A. County had just come in, and we were going to win.  By now, I was sure that we had slain the Prop 16 dragon.

During that whole time, Proposition 17 – Mercury Insurance’s scam to rip off consumers – had been ahead by a wider margin than Prop 16.  As we were all fixated on the Prop 16 results, it became apparent that Prop 17 results were following similar trends.  By the end of the evening, Prop 17 had likewise had the same fate – it also lost by about five points.

As of 4:00 this morning, Prop 16 is losing 47-53 – with 91.6% of all precincts reporting.  Not only is this a stunning rebuke of PG&E, but it is a strong mandate for public power.  Californians want a choice in the energy marketplace, and are ready for a “public option” that provides them with competitive rates and renewable energy sources.

And PG&E will deserve every share of anger, rebuke and humiliation coming at it.

Paul Hogarth is the Managing Editor of Beyond Chron, San Francisco’s Alternative Online Daily, where this piece was first published.

PG&E Commits Facebook Identity Theft for Prop 16

Several weeks ago, I noticed that one of my friends on Facebook was a “fan” of Proposition 16 – PG&E’s Monopoly Protection Act that is easily the worst measure on the June ballot.  After I chewed him out for it, he expressed shock to even be on that page.  Apparently, PG&E had added him on as a supporter without his consent.  Today, just as the Prop 16 campaign boasted that it now has 50,000 “fans” on Facebook, I received a press release from the Sunrise Center in Marin County – who complained that some of their own staffers (who are working hard to defeat Prop 16) have also been added as “fans.”  Besides exposing a serious loophole in Facebook’s privacy features, it also proves that PG&E’s $40 million campaign to pass Prop 16 includes committing identity theft.

Christy Michaels, the Corte Madera-based Sunrise Center office manager, said she was surprised to hear from a friend that an ad showed up on her friend’s Facebook page claiming, “Christy Michaels likes Prop 16.” When Christy went online she found she was named as a supporter of PG&E-funded Prop 16 on the Sunrise Center Facebook page and her personal page.

Women’s Energy Matters (WEM) is reporting these incidents to the Secretary of State, Attorney General, California Public Utilities Commission and State Senator Mark Leno, asking for immediate investigations and injunctions against PG&E and Facebook. WEM, Christy, and Kiki are advocates for Marin Clean Energy, the community-run alternative to PG&E that launched May 7th and provides local residents and businesses twice the renewable energy as PG&E at the same cost.  If Prop 16 passes, local communities would require a two-thirds vote to create a similar “public option” to PG&E – which scares the giant utility company because they would have to face competition.

Barbara George, Executive Director of WEM commented, “The whole point of Facebook is to be in touch with people you know and trust, so for PG&E’s campaign to misappropriate Facebook identities and friends lists in order to falsely claim that people ‘like’ Prop 16 is an intolerable invasion of privacy and subversion of democracy. The June 8 election on  this measure has been tainted by massive false advertising and dirty  tricks, and Facebook identity theft is a new low. PG&E is already spending $46 million on TV and print ads promoting Proposition 16 which, if it passes, would make it virtually impossible for communities to follow Marin’s lead to provide cleaner cheaper power for their residents and businesses.”

Attorney General Jerry Brown should consider pressing criminal charges against PG&E, who appears to have committed identity theft.  Ironically, Facebook’s former Chief Privacy Officer — Chris Kelly — is running to replace Brown in next week’s election.

Tomorrow’s Primaries Could Chart Destiny for 2010

In 2006, Democrats took back control of Congress because of public outrage at George Bush and the War in Iraq.  But we should remember it almost didn’t happen – until August, when Ned Lamont proved that Democrats can galvanize that energy to beat an incumbent Senator in a primary.  Tomorrow, Pennsylvania Democrats will be asked to dump ex-Republican Arlen Specter – and in Arkansas, conservative Senator Blanche Lincoln also faces a primary challenge.  And just like Joe Lieberman, the Party establishment is circling the wagons in both states – with President Obama shooting a radio ad that claims Lincoln “took on big insurance companies” to pass health care.  A new poll shows that voters prefer Democrats over Republicans, which suggests that 2010 may not be the nightmare everyone fears.  But it also showed that voters hate incumbents.  If Democrats want to avoid a bloodbath in November, Specter and Lincoln must be defeated.

In a development that Democrats are celebrating, last week’s Associated Press poll found that voters prefer a “generic Democrat” over a “generic Republican” for Congress by a 45-40 margin.  That’s almost a complete reversal from last month, but the poll also shows a dangerous trend – only one-third would re-elect their own Congressmember.  Far from just Teabaggers on the right who are waging a Stalinist purge of Republicans, there is disenchantment on the left that explains the malaise.  And so far, the Democratic leadership and Obama White House are refusing to recognize it.

If Blanche Lincoln and Arlen Specter survive the Democratic primary, it will only get worse.  There is no guarantee Specter or Lincoln would beat their Republican challengers in November – in fact, odds are against it.  In Arkansas, Republican John Boozeman beats Lincoln by 14 points.  In Pennsylvania, Specter quit the GOP because right-winger Pat Toomey would beat him in the primary.  If they face each other in the general, Specter loses byeight points.

Does this mean their progressive challengers – Bill Halter in Arkansas, and Joe Sestak in Pennyslvania – would win?  Not necessarily, but the odds are much greater.  Match-up polls show both Democrats doing better against the Republican in November, but a more important metric is the “favorable/unfavorable” numbers.  As incumbents, Lincoln and Specter have high name-recognition – and voters don’t like them.  You can’t convince someone who’s already made up their mind to change it.  With Halter and Sestak, the outcome is more fluid – because voters will be open to persuasion come November.

Democratic elites always lecture progressive activists about “electability” – how we must temper our idealism and support for liberal candidates for the “greater good” of defeating Republicans.  And yet, Organizing for America – the President’s “field team” that helped him defeat Hillary Clinton and John McCain – is urging supporters to help Lincoln and Specter win the primary.  While I’m sure many of us would support Lincoln and Specter (albeit grudgingly) if they win the primary, to do so now is sick and counterproductive.

Let’s review things for a minute.  As a moderate Republican, Arlen Specter co-sponsored the Employee Free Choice Act in 2007 – but balked in 2009 because of pressure from the right-wing of his party.  After becoming a Democrat in April 2009, he nevertheless remained opposed to EFCA and did not repudiate his prior support for a flat tax when I asked him directly.  He’s been a decent Democratic vote over the past year, but only after Sestak opted to challenge him.

Blanche Lincoln’s record is even worse.  As the White House pushed for health care reform, she vowed to filibuster any bill that included a “public option” – even when her Arkansas constituents supported it.  In other words, she was entering in cahoots with Mitch McConnell and the Senate Republicans to block any vote on President Obama’s highest legislative priority – one he took so seriously that everything else had to wait.  If Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid had a spine, this would have been treated as an act of war.

Senators rarely lose re-election – not to mention a primary in their own party – which is why it’s so hard to hold them accountable with a serious candidate.  When Joe Lieberman lost in 2006, it was the first time that a Democratic Senator failed to get re-nominated in fourteen years.  The fact that two incumbents now stand to get primaried in the same year is remarkable, and should be a serious “wake-up call” to the Democratic Party leaders.

But the leadership is circling the wagons – because the Senate is a “club” (often known as the world’s most exclusive club), and incumbents are terrified that a primary challenge to Lincoln and Specter could mean they’re next.  San Francisco readers will recall how the State Senate rallied around Carole Migden (despite her liabilities as an incumbent), when Mark Leno ran against her in 2008.  What we see right now at the national level is not all that different.

Like we’ve seen before, the task for progressives now is to save the Democratic Party from itself.  We will not see the glaring “enthusiasm gap” between Democrats and Republicans shrink if Blanche Lincoln and Arlen Specter win the primary.  They will stand to lose to a cadre of right-wing challengers in November, which will only embolden the Sarah Palin crowd to bring back the Bush Administration.  That’s why it’s so crucial to help Halter and Sestak.

Fortunately, you don’t have to be in Arkansas or Pennsylvania to help out.  MoveOn can help you call its Arkansas members, and recruit them to volunteer for Bill Halter.  Joe Sestak’s campaign website enables you to make virtual calls to Pennsylvania.  It is these tools that elected Barack Obama, and now we’re using them to rescue his legacy.

Of course, everyone knows that Joe Lieberman was a sore loser after Ned Lamont won the primary, stayed in the race as an independent and – with active support from Karl Rove – won re-election.  But the same won’t happen this time.  In both Arkansas and Pennsylvania, the deadlines to file as an independent candidate have already lapsed.

Paul Hogarth is the Managing Editor of Beyond Chron, San Francisco’s Alternative Online Daily, where this piece was first published.