Election 2020: Local Dem. groups look back & ahead
With nearly a full month since the general election ended, many local Democratic activists and political groups have had a chance to completely digest the results, and a consensus mood has surfaced. That is one of relief and looking forward to the future.
“Obviously, four years ago [when Trump won], we just had to fight to maintain some level of sanity,” said Miguel Cordova, executive board secretary with the Latino Democratic Club. “But now, it’s about trying to use what we’ve built to fight for important change.”
Few of the activists spoken with considered Joe Biden their first choice, but given the ominous possibility of a second Trump term, it wasn’t hard for them to get behind the Biden-Harris ticket in the general election.
Said Sister District Sacramento captain Phyllis Cauley, “My personal perspective is I am glad that Trump is not going to be president anymore. Neither Kamala nor Biden were my first choices, but I certainly support them. And actually, Biden may in fact be the right person for the times. We will see.”
David Mandel is a member of the Sacramento County Democratic Party central committee, and active with many local groups including the Wellstone Progressive Democrats of Sacramento and Democratic Socialists of America. His attitude also featured a couple shades of gray.
“I’m relieved that we got rid of Trump and that the Democratic Party’s strategy of just saying ‘Vote for us. We are not Trump’ was enough, barely, to get Biden elected. But it did utterly fail Democratic centrists down the ballot,” he said.
As a local example, he pointed to the Sacramento County District 3 supervisor race in which Democrat Gregg Fishman lost to Rich Desmond.
“Gregg Fishman should have done better. Biden carried [District 3] comfortably. [Fishman] just didn’t have a compelling message that brought people out to vote for him,” Mandel said.
Cauley and Cordova both pointed to the high voter turnout as significant positives. In Sacramento County, 82.6% of all registered voters participated in the general election, which was the highest level since the 1964 election.
For Sister District Sacramento, Cauley said the last election cycle was a particularly positive one. Her group is one of 76 teams nationally that work to help other states turn their legislatures from Red to Blue. In the midterms, the Sacramento team assisted a Virginia candidate win as part of flipping the Virginia State Assembly. This cycle, both of the group’s Michigan candidates won, although it was not enough to flip the Michigan State House.
The Michigan efforts included raising about $23,000 for the candidates and $14,000 in matching funds from the national Sister District organization. The group’s 40 members also participated in phone banking efforts twice a week and totaled 28,000 dials in 2020.
“As a group, we really grew last year," Cauley said. "One was the big reasons for this was 2020 Coalition Sacramento. Being part of that coalition was great for us, to get our message out and to be connected in the Sacramento region.”
2020 Coalition Sacramento brought together more than a dozen local and national groups and comprises hundreds of local volunteers. Jennifer Wood serves as steering committee co-chair. She is also chair of O.W.L. Democrats Sacramento, which is a founding member of the 2020 Coalition.
Wood admits Trump’s election put their focus largely on national goals. Now that Biden is elected, she hopes progress can be made on many issues that stagnated or degraded the last four years.
“We now can move forward with the kind of work that needs to be done to promote liberal values. And I mean ‘liberal’ in a broad sense of the common good. More prosperity, more health care, more justice, more freedom for more people,” Wood said. “I am excited that [Biden] will be putting people in positions of government who actually care about government and think it can be a force of good.”
Wood predicted local issues will again resurface. With a background as a soil scientist and environmental activist, she points to the start of the renewal process for Sacramento County’s climate action plan, which she expects to be a big focus of local environmental groups.
Moving forward, she also would like to see efforts made to depolarize politics. This includes the urban-rural divide. “We need to build bridges from the urban core to the greater surrounding area. We are so interdependent on each other.”
In addition to pushing again for a pathway to citizenship, Cordova said his group is examining process changes. Like most groups during the pandemic, the Latino Democrats needed to get creative to stay tied together while socially distancing. This included using online tools, which he thinks need to remain a tool after the pandemic.
“We probably have to look at more of a hybrid model. The face-to-face model is too hard for people who have responsibilities to be home for their child, a newborn or because of a late workday. So [online options] give people an opportunity to still come on and engage,” he said.
Mandel big hope is that local progressive groups can take a more cohesive and strategic approach in the next election cycle.
“A lot of important local elections are coming up, such as the [Sacramento] City Council, District Attorney, Sheriff, and some of the state and federal legislative seats,” Mandel said. “To succeed, I would really like to see an electoral alliance of all the progressive groups in town. We don’t want to subsume their own identities, but a real commitment to get together and unite around some real progressive candidates for those positions needs to be prioritized.”