I usually don’t get to spend much time watching the events I put together at Netroots Nation. With a 3 day event comprised of over 100 sessions, over 300 speakers, over 100 sponsors and 2000+ attendees most of my time is spent in our show office. Thankfully I had a little more time at Netroots California to just take the content in. I was tied to one room for the most part, so there’s a lot of great stuff I missed. But for the sessions I did watch there are a few ideas that stuck with me.
Check them out below the fold.
1. The Lesson of how Jerry Brown won
The first session of the day featured a great presentation by Seiji Carpenter at David Binder Research and Bryan Blum at the California Labor Federation filled in a lot of detail on some innovative things labor did this cycle. You can find Seiji’s presentation here and I’d encourage you to page through it. There’s a lot of meat to this presentation, but I wanted to highlight a few things.
* A lot of people, myself included, had heavy criticism and concern that the Brown campaign was completely absent over the summer. Whitman was pounding away at him over the air for 112 days without any response from his campaign. However, Independent Expenditures were up on the air and they were able to communicate their intentions through press releases. They kept the campaign essentially tied over the summer. And if you contrast that with Angelides in 2006 he’d essentially lost by Labor Day.
* The campaign and IEs were able to focus on key demographics. They prevented Whitman from building a base among women. Undecideds moved toward Brown. Latinos came home to Brown and turned out in record numbers (a special shout out to SEIU’s Cambiando campaign here). Working class voters favored Brown. And in a historic shift Asian Americans overwhelmingly broke for Brown.
* Labor ran a program called Million More Voters that was intended to target voters with similar qualities to union members, and they identified 2.8 million people. Asian Americans were more than twice as likely to be targets so they invested a lot of time in researching those communities, something that hasn’t been done on a large scale in California before.
* The result of this work with the Asian American communities around California lead to a 42 point shift. Asian Americans broke 55 to 38 for Democrats in 2010 and 37 to 62 for Democrats in 2006. And the work done here should be particularly instructive for future campaigns.
* Brown won by 13 points in the end, but lost with White voters. That’s something to think about going forward.
So while this isn’t a campaign that I think anyone should repeat, those of us worried because Brown was not making efforts to reach out to youth voters or boldly articulating a progressive vision or running an effective modern online campaign or name your criticism… were wrong.
2. Open Primaries and Redistricting
In the State of California in 2011 and Beyond panel John Laird made a really smart point. He gave a few examples of politicians running last cycle’s campaign this cycle and being surprised when they lost. District 6’s newest supervisor, Jane Kim, wasn’t on this panel but that’s pretty much exactly what happened in her race with her opponents as evidenced by this article and this one.
The new variable in the 2012 cycle isn’t going to be the vastly different Presidential electorate, although candidates ignore that at their peril, it’s going to be the newly passed primary system and redistricting which will be conducted by citizens and not the legislature. In a lot of races around the state there’s a real possibility for both candidates that go through to the general election to be of the same party. In fact that came within a few hundred thousand votes of happening for the GOP in the attorney general’s race had it been in effect this year. It’ll likely lead to one candidate being either more conservative or liberal and one being more moderate. To not end up with a crop of moderates across the state and lose our progressive streak different strategies are going to be necessary. And this is going to be particularly true if one or several incumbents get redistricted into the same district. We’re going to have to think about how and whether to run primaries.
3. Narrative on government and revenue
One of the organizations I was really proud to have in attendance is California Alliance. The point their staff made across several sessions went something like this. Most voters don’t know how government works and they not only don’t trust it they actively despise Sacramento. It’s common for me to be able to walk into a room of activists or politically informed people and throw out terms like 2/3rds or Prop 13 and everyone know exactly what I’m talking about and why they’re a problem. California Alliance and a lot of other groups have made a case that the average voter doesn’t have that level of knowledge and the reason you often see these anti-tax votes or punitive votes is because they don’t like or trust Sacramento. You do have success on the local level raising revenue because voters can see what their local government does and there’s a lot more trust there. At that level it’s schools, fire fighters, police, fixing roads, etc.
So one of the key things everyone needs to be thinking about in their work is how we can build a narrative about the role of government in California, why it’s important, and why we need reforms to revenue to keep the California dream alive.
4. California vs. The Nation
It was pretty hard watching election returns come in from across the country on election night. Across the board Democrats lost seats culminating in a 60+ seat loss for the House. The GOP also claimed several key governorships and state houses on the one year it matters, when redistricting will be done. But that wave washed ashore at the Sierra Nevada and stopped, as a Courage Campaign email poetically put it. Here in California we’ve almost swept the ticket, and that’ll be complete when Kamala Harris claims victory. We pretty much maintained all seats and fended off some formidable challenges. Progressives didn’t get everything they wanted from propositions but we overwhelmingly shut down corporate money.
During “The Big (Progressive) Picture: The National Landscape Going into 2012” panel Rick Jacobs at Courage campaign noted that it’s looking likely that 5 key leadership positions will be occupied by California Republicans giving California an outsized voice in their caucus leadership. He suggests that we’ve got an opportunity over the next two years to influence national politics by focusing activism on these GOP leaders at home. They’re well aware they’ll be facing re-elections in 2 short years and with big changes happening in California they’re targets. That’s worth considering for all activists as we look at both local and national debates.
5. If you contact voters, you win
This sentiment was echoed by multiple people across sessions. A wide spectrum of organizations put in a lot of voter contact work here, made some impressive new moves this cycle, and increased funding for these activities.
But this has been a debate that’s raged on for a while in California. Most of the money spent in campaigns is for TV time. Our consulting class makes big money pushing this tactic so it’s hard to advocate change and more effective uses of that money. I think this election began to show the effectiveness of field operations in California in ways other cycles haven’t. Some of the biggest wins here were won without large budgets for TV.
So we’ve got to continue the fight to fund organizing more heavily. But the other problem expressed was collaboration. When it comes to initiative fights and candidate elections we are able to accomplish proficient communication among campaigns. What isn’t happening yet is effective sharing of resources and division of tasks. As an example, Becky Bond was talking about CREDO’s work on the No on 23 campaign. They had setup field offices in cities around the state to make calls. But other environmental organizations had setup their own offices in those same cities and they weren’t co-located spaces. There was also a division early on between organizations working in communities of color and environmental organizations. The coalition of environmental organizations didn’t want to fund field work in those communities and so a separate No On 23 campaign was formed to work in those communities.
In the end we won on 23, but in my view we won it ugly. There’s a lot of work to be done to foster greater collaboration among organizations and activists in the state and to start playing offense on initiatives over multiple cycles like the conservatives and corporate interests do. This last piece was the driving factor for creating Netroots California in the first place. The content was certainly interesting, but the value will be whether we can forge new relationships and maintain them going forward.
So in conclusion that was my viewpoint on the day. I didn’t get a chance to see a lot of things I really wanted to see, so I’d be eager to hear the thoughts of others.