All posts by progressivekick

The Secret is Stockton

( – promoted by Brian Leubitz)

The fact of the matter is that Blue California is mostly quite blue and Red California is quite red. But there is a thin strip of politically semi-arid but not yet desert land, like the Sahel region just to the south of the Sahara in Africa, which we can call Purple California. This land could be fertile terrain for political progressives, as long as it received a modest irrigation flow of money and political expertise. This land is called Stockton.

With a working class population bolstered by some ancestrally Democratic Okies (though not as many as settled in the southern Valley) during the Dust Bowl years of the 1930s, San Joaquin County was traditionally Democratic – though quite conservative. Over the last 2-3 decades Republicans gained greatly in registration numbers and actual votes. This happened because working class Valley residents felt abandoned as the Democratic party, especially under Bill Clinton, moved away from its FDR/Truman tradition of carrying the banner for working class people. This led to  Valley residents’ innate social conservatism asserting itself and impelling Valley voters, almost by default, to the Republican party. But now affordable housing-starved San Francisco Bay Area residents are moving in droves to the parts of the Valley nearest to the Bay Area, especially San Joaquin County. Enough people have moved to change the politics of San Joaquin County and restore a Democratic party registration advantage among San Joaquin County voters, although it’s a quite narrow one. The people moving from the Bay Area to San Joaquin County, especially the Democrats, are much more progressive on average than long time residents.

The harsh truth is that the overwhelming majority of San Joaquin County elected officials who are Democrats (still a minority of elected officials in the county) have horrible voting records from the perspective of progressives. But there are progressive opportunities. The finely balanced partisan registration margins in San Joaquin County overall mask dramatic differences within different parts of the county. The rural areas and the smaller incorporated cities, especially Lodi, are still quite Republican. Stockton is by far and away the largest population center of San Joaquin County. Stockton itself has a fairly strong Democratic voter registration advantage.

But there’s not anyone doing partisan electoral work from a progressive perspective on the ground in Stockton. California coastal progressives from places like the Bay Area need to think strategically. We shouldn’t be channeling scarce resources to the sparsely populated Gold Country Congressional districts of Doolittle & Lungren, however much their stench offends our nostrils. Those districts are just too Red. Even if we defeat Doolittle because he’s indicted (the only way it’ll happen), we’d lose the seat back two years later.

On the other hand, Stockton just elected a very progressive Latina lesbian to the city council in a harsh race where she was viciously attacked by the old boy power structure. Of the five supervisorial districts in San Joaquin County, one is strongly Democratic and one strongly Republican with the other three closely balanced (two with a narrow Dem advantage/one with a narrow Republican advantage). The predominantly Democratic supervisorial district is the one that includes most of Stockton. This supervisorial district in turn is at the core of the 17th state Assembly district represented by Cathleen Galgiani and the 18th Congressional district represented by Dennis Cardoza, both of whom are fairly wretchedly reactionary Democrats. Fortunately Galgiani will be pushed elsewhere (one hopes to political oblivion) by term limits. By percolating her up through the political ranks, our progressive member of the Stockton City Council COULD wind up being a progressive member of the U.S. Congress. But it won’t happen by accident, and – quite possibly – not without our help.

Bay Area progressives need to scour Stockton and link up with indigenous activist groups who A) have their act together, B) are progressive & C) are angry with the right wing pro-developer, pro-big-agribusiness, pro-corporate mentality that’s resulted in the San Joaquin Valley (including San Joaquin County) having a variety of negative social indices more like those of a third world country than those of the Bay Area. These groups don’t have to currently be engaged in electoral work. They do need to be dedicated to community organizing – year round, not just in election season. With the credibility gained by doing the hard, dirty work of organizing poor people around getting a stoplight at an intersection where a kid has been hit by a car, etc., i.e. Saul Alinsky-style organizing, these indigenous organizations are the only ones who are in a position to command the respect of the socially/economically disadvantaged and understandably cynical communities that they work in. We should be funding them to hire people who have great experience in both community organizing AND nakedly electoral work as well.

It would take a tremendous amount of work, some expenditure of resources as well as time to take over the Stockton City Council. But it could be done and it would provide a tremendous beacon of hope for progressive organizing in San Joaquin County which in turn would provide a tremendous beacon of hope for progressive organizing in the entire San Joaquin Valley.

California’s coastal progressives ignore the Valley at their peril. It’s rapidly growing while the Bay Area’s population is essentially stable. Without combating Republicans and conservative Democrats in the Valley so that it doesn’t become their 21st century equivalent of what Orange County represented for the right wing in the 1980s and `90s, California will slowly but inexorably slide from being a blue state to being a purple one overall. That’s because the other rapidly growing parts of California, the Inland Empire counties of Riverside and San Bernardino lean to the Republicans and carry increasing heft in California politics as they mushroom in population and Los Angeles stagnates along with the Bay Area.

Maybe I shouldn’t say the secret is Stockton, but rather that the solution is Stockton!

Joshua Grossman, who wrote this posting, will be live blogging and taking questions on FireDogLake this coming Saturday, April 14, from 11 am- 1pm PST.

If you want to help make Stockton the solution, click on the Progressive Kick ActBlue link:…
As a 527 organization, Progressive Kick can take contributions of any size from a dollar to $10 million (if you work in a social change nonprofit you have to be an optimist, at least for the long haul  😉 

California Legislative Primary Progressive Commando Attack

(I’ve not talked about the importance of primaries since, well, today in fact. So, this reinforces much of what I’ve been talking about, primaries are important. – promoted by Brian Leubitz)

by Joshua Grossman, Progressive Kick

• 80 state Assembly members/40 state Senators/53 members U.S. House of Representatives from California. Total of 3 = 173. Assembly & U.S. House members have 2-year terms; state Senators have staggered 4-year terms, with half (20) up for re-election every 2 years. So the total numbers of members of legislative bodies elected from California every 2 years is 153. (80 Assembly + 53 U.S. House + 20 state Senate). During 2004 in the general election NOT A SINGLE ONE of the 153 seats changed hands between the Democrats and Republicans. During 2006, a single legislative seat of the 153 total changed hands between the parties – Jerry McNerney defeating Richard Pombo for re-election to the U.S. House. So California Democrats didn’t gain a single seat in the state legislature in spite of the fact that Democrats nationally were gaining 325 seats in state legislatures, making gains in 42 of the 45 states holding legislative elections. So trying to affect the partisan composition of the California state legislature is a big fat waste of time, especially outside the 8 or so seats that have even the remotest chance of changing hands between parties.

• Meanwhile, the so-called “Business Dems” number almost half the Democrats in the state legislature and constantly force the watering down of progressive legislation if not ensuring its outright defeat. Not one person in 10,000 in California has ever heard of the Business Dems. There are coalition efforts by California Nurses/California League of Conservation Voters + a few other progressive groups to win Democratic party primaries for more progressive candidates, but it’s very much a smoke-filled room coalition. There is no across the board progressive entity in the state of California trying to mobilize progressives on behalf of progressive candidates in state legislative PRIMARY elections.
• The universe of people who vote in the Democratic party primary elections is far smaller and more progressive than the universe of people who vote in general elections. If we can’t win a primary, we don’t deserve to win the general election in that district. The universe of voters in these races is highly identifiable – so-called pathological voters – and is of a size that lends itself to grassroots campaigns (as much as any campaigns in districts of these sizes can be characterized as grassroots). In contrast to the extremely non-competitive general elections in California, Democratic party primaries for state legislature are often highly competitive and are sometimes won by incredibly small margins (sometimes fewer than 1000 votes and in the last election one race was won by 24 votes if memory serves). It makes sense that the primary races are generally so competitive, because after all, in the vast majority of cases the victor of the primary is guaranteed to win the general election.
• IF progressives can win a sufficient number of seats in Democratic-held districts they can hold out for a 2012 redistricting plan that would cease entrenching all incumbents in their districts in contrast to the previous 2002 redistricting plan which greatly strengthened incumbents of both parties. That would mean that in a good Democratic year the Democrats could win a 2/3 majority (they’re very close now, the problem is that just about all of the currently Republican-held seats are safe) which would allow Democrats to pass a budget without legislative Republicans vetoing it. (California is one of only 4 states where a 2/3 majority is required to pass a state budget.)

So what’s to be done?

This posting is not an action plan or a campaign strategy. We have
some excellent organizations working on progressive state legislative electoral politics in California, but much of their work is top down. Some questions that I don’t have the answers to and would love your feedback on are:
1. What can be done to create models that involve California citizens directly as individuals to participate in nominating strongly progressive Democrats in primary elections?
2. What are the best ways and structures to mobilize progressive Californians for this work, whether or not they’re enrolled members of organizations such as the California League of Conservation Voters, labor unions, etc?
3. Is there a bottom up model for how to do this, other than targeting Democratic county central committees and assembly district committees?
4. Can we motivate unaffiliated progressives to cohere into some kind of structured force that is something greater than merely an ad hoc response to a particular progressive running in a given district?
5. And how could this as yet nonexistent structure be constituted so that it would provide a powerful motivational tool to convince wonderful progressives to run for office who otherwise wouldn’t because of insufficient resources?

If you want to help make California progressive, not just Democratic, click on the Progressive Kick ActBlue link:…
As a 527 organization, Progressive Kick can take contributions of any size of any size from a dollar to $10 million (if you work in a social change nonprofit you have to be an optimist, at least for the long haul  😉