A Progressive Alamedan

Various writings from a resident of Alameda regarding the political scene. The local perspective of local, state and national politics and a few other odds and ends of local concern. May not be particularly interesting to people outside of the Alameda area.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Thoughts on the upcoming election

Some miscellaneous thoughts about the upcoming election, just over a week away....

I'm glad to see that in California's 42nd Congressional District, somebody has stepped up to the plate as a write-in candidate to challenge Republican Incumbent Gary Miller. It's Mark Hull-Richter ... this has shades of Jerry McNerney two years ago. He seems like a good progressive. It's an uphill battle, certainly, but all we have to do is get somebody decent to actually challenge Miller and there's a chance, the way the republicans have been crumbling! If you the reader know anybody that lives in San Bernadino, Rancho Cucamonga, Rialto, or Fontana, let them know about this.

I'm disappointed to hear that Debra Bowen is actually neck and neck with Ortiz according to the latest LA Times poll, at 21% each. That's with 58% undecided, so it's clear that it's a matter of voter familiarity. We've got to get the word out about how great Debra Bowen will be as a Secretary of State! (Hat tip and bigger analysis: California Progress Report)

I'm about to have a birthday, and I will be probably spending that evening phone-banking for Jerry McNerney. Anybody want to bring me some chocolate cake, and join me in this fun event? (I did it last week; it takes a few minutes to psych myself up to talk to strangers, then it's such a natural high!)

Thursday, May 25, 2006

For those with friends in the nearby 14th Assembly District....

I live in the 16th Assembly district, and I've talked about the relevant candidates already. I mentioned the Democratic Central Committee in a previous post

For readers in the neighboring 14th Assembly District (Berkeley/Oakland), I wanted to mention the endorsement from East Bay for Democracy for the Central Committee: Karen Weinsteing and Elizabeth Echols. Please pass the word along to vote for these two progressives in this district.

Grassroots Window Signs, Bumper Stickers for Debra Bowen

Something I whipped up, in case other Bowen "fans" want to spread the word.... Click to download PDFs of home-made Debra Bowen window signs and bumper stickers (3 to a page). Obviously you'll need a little scotch tape after you print these....

PDF of Debra Bowen window sign   PDF of Debra Bowen bumper stickers

(Updated 5/26 to include www.DebraBowen.com, phrase "Computer Generated - Labor Donated" to clarify source of the signs, and a bit of an improvement in contrast in the name. Also, I contacted the campaign suggesting that they provide some official printable signs, so it's possible that these homemade signs may become obsolete!)

Handy Statewide Voter Guide

Speak Out California has released their handy online voter guide, which tracks the endorsements for the various statewide races (as well as some senate district races.

It's quite interesting to see all these side by side. I'm not surprised to see the dominance of Angelides over Westly, though I still think Angeledes faces an uphill battle connecting with the voting population who makes their decisons based on television commercials. I had suspected that Jackie Speier was getting the lion's share of endorsement, and this confirms it. (I still prefer Garamendi but I'll be happy if Speier wins.) For controller, Chiang and Dunn are running neck and neck in the endorsements; they are both great candidates. (I am now leaning toward Chiang because I think his background better fits the job description.) And of course, Bowen dominates the endorsements, no surprise there (though I'm worried about the size of Ortiz's campaign fund!)

Update on the County Supervisor's Race

One race I that has been difficult to decide upon is the race for County Supervisor. There are numerous candidates, but the main three are incumbent Alice Lai-Bitker, Jim Price, and Shelia Young. (I've linked to their campaign sites becuause they have such low Google juice!)

It's been a difficult choice. I don't think that Alice Lai-Bitker has been that effective. She has a lot of support here in Alameda, but I just don't feel that she has really stood up to protect our rights. She has been as wobbly as can be on the issue of electronic voting, succumbing multiple times to pressure to give inherently flawed Diebold and Sequoia machines the benefit of the doubt, instead of the boot! A friend, whose politics I respect, defends her seeming lack of strength to cultural differences and language skill issues, saying that she is warm and genuine and intelligent. I can certainly respect cultural differences, but I believe that for somebody to do a job effectively, they need to have the skills required for that job, transcending or compensating for any challenges that their upbringing has provided them.

Jim Price signs are everywhere in Alameda, so he has a lot of support, but I truly wonder where he stands. I spoke to him a few weeks ago, and he was frantically telling me about waste and underutilitized employment opportunities at the County Hospital. I do agree with his statement about the importance of paper trails and auditable voting machines, but something about him rubs me the wrong way. He's endorsed by ultraconservative former City Council Candidate Pat Bail; a progressive friend calls him a "right-winger". This really worries me. I don't think I can support Price.

Which brings us to Shelia (prounced like Shiela) Young, nearly done with her term as Mayor of San Leandro. She doesn't seem to have much of a "ground presence" at least in this part of Alameda; I haven't seen any lawn signs, for instance. It's only because of her mailing that I know she's a serious/major candidate. One friend didn't have anything positive to say about her, but didn't give details. On the other hand, another friend, a progressive former Alamedan who now lives in San Leandro, had a lot of good to say about her:

Shelia is a very outspoken and determined person. Sheila has really put a lot of energy in San Leandro and is trying to put it on the map. If I had to compare her to [Alameda Mayor] Bev Johnson there is no comparison. Sheila is really into Seniors and Senior Services. Our downtown has been getting renovated and she is working on a committee to encourage public transportation by working with BART to encourage people to leave their cars behind... Sheila is a go getter and does not take no for an answer.

I called the phone number on her website, and talked to her on the phone. I wanted to know where she stood about the voting machines issue, and I was pleased with her response. Based on my conversation with her, I have found the candidate to back. I just hope that she is able to get her message outside of San Leandro. I think we need a supervisor who is levelheaded and will fight for the interests of his or her constituents. That's not Lai-Bitker, and that's not Price. I think Young will be able to do that job well.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

No Precinct Captain's Program in Alameda

A great program to take back our country, voter by voter, called the Precinct Captains program, has been underway all over California. The idea is that at the grassroots level, volunteers become "captains" of their voting precincts, and in a year-round program, get to know their neighbors and make sure they are educated about the issues, are registered to vote, and get to the polls. It's a different approach to what Democrats have traditionally taken, which is to be strangers for 95% of the time and then descend in the two weeks before election day. It's closer to what the Republicans do (often through churches, unfortunately) quite effectively.

So why is there no Precinct Captains Program in Alameda?

Last summer, a good handful of Alamedans (mostly members of the Alameda Democratic Club) attended a training session over in Oakland. Everybody was jazzed about it, it seemed. And then, nothing. One person was arbitrarily "handed the keys" to the database, and then did nothing. I tried desperately to get things started. I was able to get to the database for my own precinct, so I started the program here, without any support from the club. (I printed my own business cards, made and copies little flyers to leave at the doors of households that didn't answer the door. I spent a great weekend walking the neighborhood, and then a few months later, with the Anti-Arnold election around the corner, I did another pass, this time with my own home-made leaflet with a summary of the propositions.

It has been very rewarding. I'd like to take a look at the statistics for my precinct compared to neighboring ones; I'm sure I made a difference. (Though realistically, it can take years to build up a permanent presence.)

Unfortunately, the Alameda Democratic Club was not receptive to the program. Well, actually, one member of the executive board didn't think it was such a good idea, couldn't see the point of it, so it was shot down. The club, like many organizations, is resistant to change.

I have a mind to bring it up again one of these days and try it again. We need it to be led by somebody who actually believes in the program and will make it a reality.

What We Can Do at the Local Level

Ever since I've been politically active, which isn't very long at all (I did little more than vote, pre-Howard-Dean), people ask when I'm going to run for something. My answer is that it's a great idea, but where we live is so progressive, that it's a very crowded field.

Sure, there are plenty of Republicans in the area, but the East Bay is one of the most blessedly progressive areas around. There are no shortage of super-activists and even lightly involved activists. And, of course candidates.

So ask me again to run for an office if I ever find myself in a more "purple" area, where I would make a difference.

So what can we, living in a solid blue area, do to help?

There are two ways that we can help. Density and Outreach.

Density is how we can take advantage of our solid-blue region and help deliver the Democratic vote and the progressive vision to the rest of California. For statewide races, a vote is a vote no matter where it comes from, and it's the densely blue areas like we have here that need to counteract the red areas inland. It's much more fruitful to get people registered around here than in, say, Bakersfield; if you help register voters, most of them will be voters that tend to go with the Democratic side of the ballot, even if they register as independent or another party like Green or Peace and Freedom. Talking to your neighbors about the candidates and issues is much more effective than talking to people with whom you have nothing in common. And helping to get out the vote, in the weeks and days up to election, is extremely effective here, because we have so many Blue voters to begin with.

Outreach is where you help influence races just outside the local area. Some activists travelled out of state for the 2004 election, an expensive activity which may have helped a small amount but certainly wasn't as effective as neighbor-to-neighbor outreach. We can more modestly help out with in-state races without such a time and financial expense, and by staying local, we aren't going to be viewed as carpetbaggers. Many Southern Californian activists have been helping with Francine Busby's race for Congress; many Northern Californians and especially Bay Area residents have been helping with Jerry McNerney's campaign to get rid of Pombo in the neighboring 11th Congresssional District. I am proud to be helping with McNerney's campaign; I've helped with the campaign's website, and I will be doing some phone banking tonight to help familiarize voters in the district with McNerney.

I want to encourage fellow Alamedans to try out both techniques to make the world a better place. Talk to your neighbors and help get them registered and to the polls. And also help out our neighboring districts that are not safely blue as we are.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Report of our BYOB party.

Today we held a "BYOB party" - Bring your own Ballot! We invited neighbors (around Alameda, but focusing on immediate neighbors) to bring their ballots and talk about the candidates and issues in front of us. I had been to the California Democratic Convention last month as a delegate, so I managed to hear debates and speeches by many of the candidates; I even got to meet a few of them and talk one-on-one. I wrote up this report for those who couldn't make it, so that even if they missed the beer, wine, munchies, and chocolate cake, at least they could benefit from what we learned or at least opined.

Most of the party was just, well, people sitting or standing around and chatting. It was fun to introduce neighbors down the block to neighbors around the block! About halfway through, we had a staffer from Sandré Swanson's run for State Assembly come by and give a (somewhat nervous) spiel on behalf of Swanson, and answer questions. He talked about Swanson's qualifications being his 30 years of public service, working with admired leaders like Barbara Lee and Ron Dellums, with accomplishments like getting the Port of Oakland dredged but environmentally soundly, Alameda naval base transfer, getting the Federal Building brought to Oakland, etc. He has the endorsements of a ton of groups (unions, education, Sierra clubs). He also won the endorsement of the Dem Party as well, chosen overwhelmingly by the grassroots delegates. We had some strong Russo supporters there that didn't necessarily change their mind, but his talk definitely helped sway some undecided voters. Regardless of this election's outcome, I think we'd do just fine to have either Swanson or Russo representing us in Sacto!

I left out a big poster board for people to jot down their opinions and read what others had written. Here's a low-down gleaned from that, plus my recollection of some conversations. Obviously my opinions are front-and-center here but I tried to capture the general consensus.

GOVERNOR: Little positive (if any) was said about Westly. Angelides is overwhelmingly the choice of the grassroots activists and also the party insiders like Boxer and Feinstein. Some good comments about how Angelides was brave in putting the reality that we're going to have to have money come from tax forefront in his campaign, and that the richest need to pay their fair share, rather than hiding the issue about where money comes from.

LT. GOVERNOR: I heard the 3 candidates debate and though I think Speier (who may be the front-runner?) would be great, I was really impressed by Garamendi -- came across as frank, passionate ... also liked that he's one of the few politicians I've heard who addressed global warming and how its impact is going to have to be addressed in California.

SEC. OF STATE -- I have heard Debra Bowen speak, as had one other attendee -- she'd perfect for the job .... she is amazingly knowledgeable and passionate about election protection. Of all the candidates on the ballot, she is the one I feel the strongest about. Bowen All The Way!

CONTROLLER -- The only opinions I heard were my own here, unfortunately -- I think both of them would be great. Chiang is the super-accountant and Dunn ("the guy who brought down enron") is a bulldog. I want BOTH of them to win! :-) I am tempted to go with Chiang because I think his experience more closely matches the job description...

ATTORNEY GENERAL: A lot of negative things said about Rocky Delgadillo. Jerry Brown is a bit of a strange bird, and has a "short attention span" as somebody put it, but he could be really good in this job. To me he seems like an elder statesman now, with a lot of fire in him. I think we need somebody like that.

INSURANCE COMMISSIONER: Cruz Bustamonte is the dominant candidate in this race, and nobody really thought he had much charisma, but he's probably a shoo-in for the Dem party nomination.

US SENATOR: A lot of people don't like how Centrist Feinstein is. I met challenger Colleen Fernald at the convention, she's a progressive activist who decided to put her name on the ballot to try to get some leverage against Feinstein. Feinstein will obviously win, but I'm thinking of voting for Fernald.

STATE ASSEMBLY: I discussed this above a bit. A couple more comments on the candidates.... Daysog: "seems to abstain from many of the most controversial votes on the City Council". Russo: "His web site talks about building an *automobile* bridge or tunnel between Alameda Point and Oakland" (in other words, nothing about ped/bike/transit)

DEMOCRATIC COUNTY COMMITTEE (registered Democrat only): Just some background first -- this is one of the the bottom-up ways that the Democratic Party is built, but it's almost completely opaque to the average voter! Who the heck are these people anyhow? With no ballot statements, the only way to know who to vote for is word of mouth (like this email)! Anyhow, here' the low-down. Six of the candidates are mainstream active democrats and are running as a slate: Egerman, Androupolous, Neal, Berzins, Sweeny-Griffith, and Williams. One, Judy Belcher, whom I know, is a progressive activist and she's OK. The rest of the ticket consists of known or suspected followers of LYNDON LAROUCHE! Yes, those nuts have been trying to infiltrate the Democratic party for years. (Perhaps you've seen their youth movement proselytizing on Park Street..) Probably thanks to the ignorance of the voters, two of them got elected last term, even beating out councilmember Tony Daysog! Anyhow, I'm asking you to please vote for the slate of the six I listed, or five of them plus Belcher.

VARIOUS NON-PARTISAN COUNTY OFFICES: Alas, no opinions or insight expressed here. We're on our own here...

COUNTY SUPERVISOR: This one was hard -- I was hoping to get some more insight to help me decide, but I'm not impressed by any of the candidates, and nobody else there seemed to be either. Alice Lai-Bikter, the incumbent, doesn't seem to be very strong or forceful, and seems easily swayed when it comes to issues that we talked about, such as Ranked-Choice Voting systems and whether or not to approve the current crop of Diebold voting machines which leave no paper trail. Jim Price seems to have a lot of support in Alameda, but is focusing on one issue, of funding of the County Hospital. I liked his statement to me about voting machines, but many of us were very disturbed that he's supported by Pat Bail. Others I've talked to are VERY negative on Price. We also talked about Sheilia Young of San Leandro, who doesn't seem to have any presence here in Alameda in the lawn sign department ... A friend of mine in San Leandro couldn't come up with anything positive to say about her, some of us wondered if any of here accomplishments weren't just things that happened on her watch that she's taking credit for. Conclusion of all this: ?????

PROPOSITION 81: Quite a bit of discussion about how it's sad that so many things are funded by bonds, and how much bond debt the state has now, though much of it is for prisons. Jokingly we said we should oppose this now that we have our own new library practically finished. Anyhow, I think that most democrats/progressives are in favor of this as investment in the future

PROPOSITION 82: Again, most discussion was about the big picture, how it's a shame when programs are funded by new special taxes, instead of focusing on the big picture when it comes to taxation. I actually read the whole proposed law and it's flawed in some places, but I think it's a good start. I don't want to "let the perfect be the enemy of the good" and prevent this from going ahead, so I'll vote a cautious yes.

A Letter to the Editor

California Democrats (and independent voters who request a Democrat ballot) have some interesting choices at the polls on June 6th. Some of the candidates haven't had very much media attention, so I wanted to share my perspective with interested voters since I had the opportunity to meet and hear many of them at last month's Democratic Convention in Sacramento.

The Secretary of State - the elections chief - will have the highest impact in how future elections are run. Debra Bowen, who currently chairs the State Senate's Committee on Elections, is hands-down the most knowledgeable and passionate about election protection issues, which are of utmost important in this age of flawed, unregulated voting machines. Her opponent, Ortiz, is a competent state senator, but is not at all focused on election matters. I strongly believe that we need to replace McPherson with Bowen to make sure that every vote is counted in our elections.

Jerry Brown is back in the spotlight as he runs for Attorney General. In the debate I saw, Brown came across as an ardent elder statesman; his opponent Delgadillo came across as a typical politician. Brown will easily get my vote.

The race for Lieutenant Governor has three good candidates. After hearing them debate, I found myself strongly preferring John Garamendi (currently Insurance Commissioner) for his frankness, knowledge and leadership.

And for Governor? Phil Angelides may lack the brawn of Arnold Schwarzenegger and the looks of Steve Westly, but his experience and vision have earned him the backing of most grassroot democrats and elected officials; he'll make a great Governor. Westly, backed by his own riches (Anybody remember Al Chechi?) may come across well on TV, but in person he's smug and full of hot air.

Locally, I should mention that Assembly candidate Sandre Swanson received the Democratic Party endorsement, overwhelmingly chosen by the delegates from our district. Although I think Russo would make a suitable representative, I'm going with Swanson for his proven track record; he's worked with some of our most respected local progressive leaders and will represent Alameda well.