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    Election Day Post-Mortem: We’re Tired of the Status Quo

    By Peter Gallotta–

    To everyone who voted on November 5th, let me just say, thank you. I know for some out there, voting is like going to the gym. You might dread it a little bit, you’re not sure if you’re doing it exactly right, but afterwards, you know you’ve done something good.

    Now more than ever we’ve got to exercise our right to vote when we can, wherever we can. It is more painfully obvious every day how much elections matter. And right now, we’re just getting warmed up for the big one in 2020. In fact, for me, the most ominous part of voting this year was the thought that we are now only one year away from an election that will arguably be the most important one in our lifetimes.

    If 2019 is any indication of what’s to come in 2020, I have to admit I’m feeling more hopeful. For one, Kentucky, a deep red state that Donald Trump won by more than 30 points, just elected a Democratic Governor. Andy Beshear, the state’s Attorney General, ousted incumbent Governor and Trump acolyte Matt Bevin. Bevin ran not only with Trump’s support, but he also made his campaign primarily about Trump in an effort to tap into his popularity in the state.

    But Governor-elect Beshear’s win may have more to do with Bevin’s dismal record and own unpopularity. As Governor, Bevin worked to curb Medicaid expansion and overhaul state pension plans, impacting thousands of public sector employees and resulting in a massive statewide teacher strike. So while Trump may have helped drive more Democrats to the polls for Beashar, it was the in-state status quo that voters sent a stronger message against.

    Virginians, too, voted for change, electing the most progressive majority in Virginia legislative history. For the first time in decades, Democrats control the Virginia House of Delegates, the Virginia State Senate, as well as the Governor’s mansion. This sweep was propelled in large part by suburban voters turning out in big numbers to back Democratic candidates. And while anti-Trump sentiment played a role, Democrats ran with a plan to pass an agenda that Republicans have blocked for years: stricter gun laws, a higher minimum wage, and ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment, making Virginia the final state needed for passage of this historic gender equality measure.

    And there were smaller victories on election day that showed a desire for change. Remember the woman on a bike who flipped off Trump’s motorcade in 2017? That’s Juli Briskman. She lost her job for flipping the bird, but on November 5th she was elected to a new one on the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors in Virginia. While part of Trump National Golf Club is in her District, Briskman ran on a campaign focused on the issues: public school funding, teacher pay, and housing.

    And when it comes to changing the status quo, LGBTQ candidates continue to be at the forefront. Danica Roem, who made history as the first transgender person elected to the Virginia House of Delegate in 2017, handily won her re-election. In Indianapolis, three openly LGBTQ candidates were elected to the City Council. And in Ohio, N.J. Akbar won a seat on the Akron Board of Education, becoming one of the first gay, Muslim, African Americans ever elected to any office in the United States.

    While you could view these victories as one-off signs of social progress, we can’t discount the bigger political picture here. This is the third election in a row in which Democrats have made significant gains since Trump was elected. These victories are no simple accident. So now we must do the work of building upon them to deliver more victories in cities, suburbs, and states across the country in 2020.

    Here in San Francisco, the November 5th election was “like a knife fight in a phone booth,” as Assemblymember David Chiu once quipped about San Francisco politics. The two hotly contested races—District Attorney and District 5 Supervisor—were too close to call on election night and left us in suspense for days after.

    Once all of the vote by mail and provisional ballots were counted and the dust had settled, one thing was instantly clear: San Franciscans voted for change.

    Chesa Boudin, who ran on a platform of transformative change in the criminal justice system, beat out Suzy Loftus in the District Attorney’s race, even with Ranked Choice Voting’s instant run-off factored in. Dean Preston, who ran as a Democratic Socialist with big policy ideas like free Muni and a Green New Deal, won the race for District 5 Supervisor by 188 votes over Vallie Brown, the Mayor’s endorsed candidate.
    Tons of money was spent running negative attack ads against Chesa Boudin and Dean Preston, and yet we saw that the electorate wasn’t buying it. The establishment did everything to throw obstacles in the way of change, including appointing Suzy Loftus as interim District Attorney weeks before the election, yet Chesa Boudin received the greatest number of first place votes.

    I’ve been involved in a number of progressive campaigns in San Francisco over the past 10 years. I’ve seen candidates I supported win and I’ve seen them lose. And after some crushing defeats it often felt that San Francisco had moved so far to the middle that there was no way we could ever get a Chesa Boudin or a Dean Preston elected in this town. But now we’ve been reminded that we can—even in an off-year, lower voter turnout election.

    These candidates beat the odds. And I believe they won, not only because of the incredible grassroots power that was behind them, but also because the status quo has revealed itself to be a system that works for some and not for all. With massive income inequality fueling our affordability crisis and the mental health crisis on our streets, incremental change is not enough. Middle of the road, business as usual policies are not working.

    As Tram Nguyen, the Co-Executive Director of the New Virginia Majority, put it: “Elections are never our finish line. People vote because they want politicians to fix things and if politicians don’t follow through with it … we can use our vote to vote them out of office. Politicians work for us.”

    There are no two leaders who will work harder for us every day than Chesa Boudin and Dean Preston. They will bring change to our city, and most importantly, they will be independent voices. We are far from the finish line, but we know where we’re going. And it’s in a promising new direction away from the status quo.

    Peter Gallotta is a 30-something LGBT political activist holding on to the city that he loves thanks to rent control and two-for-one happy hour specials. He is a former President of the Harvey Milk LGBTQ Democratic Club and currently serves as an appointed member of the San Francisco Democratic County Central Committee and an elected delegate to the California Democratic Party.

    Published on November 14, 2019