PROGRESSIVE CALIFORNIA-- STATE LEGISLATIVE PRIMARY PROGRESSIVE COMMANDO ATTACK
Joshua Grossman, founder and president of Progressive Punch and Progressive Kick, is going to be our Blue America guest at Firedoglake on Saturday. Since he's absolutely brilliant and I'm eager for him to share his knowledge of electoral politics with everyone, I've aksed him to write a couple of pieces on California politics leading up to Saturday's live blog session (11am PT/2pm EST). All DWT readers are already familiar with Joshua's work because every time I link to a congress member's voting record, it's based on the careful and exhaustive work by Progressive Punch. Joshua's electoral astuteness goes way beyond that work. Here's part 1 of a virtual tryptych of political brilliance:
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 plus 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, as progressives, 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 the 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, please go to the Progressive Kick ActBlue Page and consider making a contribution. As a 527 organization, Progressive Kick can take contributions of any size from a dollar to $10 million.