By Zoe Dunning
Change Is Coming for Democrats
Back in October, I was so confident Hillary Clinton would be our next President that I went ahead and booked roundtrip flights to Washington D.C. for next week’s Inauguration. Now we sit on the precipice of a Trump Administration and listen to his historically unqualified cabinet picks as they respond to questioning during their confirmation hearings.
“How did we miss this?” everyone is asking. People point their fingers at polls, the media, the DNC, Bernie, third party voters, and Hillary’s campaign. Another contributing factor is “confirmation bias,” which Wikipedia describes as “the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms one’s preexisting beliefs or hypotheses, while giving disproportionately less consideration to alternative possibilities.” We all experience and suffer from it; it is human nature. That’s why it’s important to get outside our usual echo chambers: Facebook, our circle of friends just like us, the liberal Bay Area, and media that reflects and validates our values (NPR, MSNBC for the left, FOX on the right). To me, it is a call for us to look objectively at all data and opinions and really listen, and listen for those voices that contradict our perspectives, not just confirm them.
One of the big takeaways from 2016 is that Americans are getting fed up with business as usual, with conventional wisdom, with inside baseball. The unexpected rise of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders—who raised money differently, campaigned differently, and spoke to those on the margins—tapped into an artery of disaffect and anger. Sure, the stock market has risen at a record pace and jobs have been added under the Obama administration, but who is benefitting? We must continue to fight for equity and ensure the wealth our economy generates doesn’t land in only the top 1%’s pockets.
Much of the disaffect is targeted at the two political parties. Both Trump and Sanders exhibited outward disdain for their party and its processes. For the Democrats, change is coming. One opportunity is the upcoming election of the Chair of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) at its Winter Meeting the weekend of February 23–26. Top candidates include former Vermont Governor Howard Dean, Congressman Keith Ellison from Minnesota, and U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez. John Pérez, the openly gay Speaker Emeritus of the CA Assembly, is also considering a run. The party has a real identity crisis to make itself relevant. Does it swing more progressive, as Congressman Ellison is proposing, or reach out to the struggling rust belt working-class white voters that Trump so successfully won over?
Also at the state level there will be an upcoming election for California Democratic Party Chair, as the powerful John Burton steps aside. The “insider” candidate is current Vice Chair Eric Bauman of Los Angeles County. An openly gay long-time party leader, Bauman has the inside track. Many currently in leadership roles in the party owe their position to Eric. Personally, I like him a lot; he has been a strong advocate for the LGBT and Veterans communities.
However, he has a challenger whose campaign is growing stronger everyday: Kimberly Ellis, the recent Executive Director of Emerge CA. Emerge is a political training organization that prepares Democratic women to run for office. I am a 2010 graduate of the program, as are most of the women in elected office in San Francisco, such as London Breed, Thea Selby, and Malia Cohen. Kimberly is gaining momentum as more progressive delegates to the State Central Committee, women, people of color (Kimberly is African-American) and others sick of inside politics are drawn to her grassroots campaign. I have been an early supporter of Kimberly, and think she has a real chance at riding this wave of change to become the next leader of our state party.
Even locally, the 2016 DCCC election where the progressive slate ousted several moderate incumbents, showed a movement angry with the widening gap between the rich and the poor, real estate interests and tenants, police and communities of color. So, at the national, state and local level, the Democratic Party is taking action to shake up business as usual and respond to the current dissatisfaction with the status quo.
District 8 Supervisor Formally Introduced
In other local political news, on January 6, Mayor Ed Lee formally introduced his appointment to the vacant D8 seat on the Board of Supervisors, Jeff Sheehy. Jeff is, according to the Mayor’s press release, “a long-time HIV/AIDS activist and pioneer for LGBT equality who has dedicated his life to public and community service. As former President of the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club, as former Mayor Newsom’s advisor on HIV/AIDS, and as a victim advocate in the San Francisco District Attorney’s office before that, Jeff has been on the front lines fighting inequality and injustice for disenfranchised populations.” He is also a father raising a daughter in Glen Park and the first HIV-positive member of the Board of Supervisors.
Word on the street is that the selection came down to Jeff and City College Board Trustee Alex Randolph, and the Mayor finally selected Jeff. I don’t know Jeff—I’ve met him on a few occasions—but I think the choice was pretty strategic. Mayor Lee can’t afford to have another one of his appointees go down in defeat the first time they run for election, a/la Christine Olague and Julie Christensen. The strongest challenger in 2018 for the seat is Rafael Mandelman, another San Francisco Bay Times columnist. Alex, who also writes for this paper, has demonstrated he is a strong campaigner and has established some citywide name recognition from his two campaigns for City College. Having been a previous mayoral appointee, though, he is seen as being tight with the Mayor and possibly beholden. He would paint a stark contrast to the feisty progressive Mandelman, who is himself a seasoned candidate and public figure. By selecting a former Milk Club President in Sheehy, and person with some progressive street cred, the Mayor must be hoping to stave off a Mandelman campaign in 2018 by splitting progressives between the two. Additionally, Alex Randolph is one of the nicest guys in the world. Jeff is seen as a fierier fighter. If the Mayor wants his new supe to go toe to toe with the likes of Aaron Peskin and Campos’ mentee, Hillary Ronen, he is looking for someone who doesn’t shy from conflict. Jeff seems to fit that bill more and I imagine that was likely a deciding factor.
New Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club Co-Chair
This week the Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club ushered in a new Co-Chair, Eric Lukoff. He joins current Co-Chair Lou Fischer as the 2017 leaders of the club. It was a unanimous choice—Eric is one of those rare leaders who is smart, thinks outside the box, works incredibly hard, and can contribute to both the strategic as well as to the tactical aspects of running a Democratic Club in San Francisco. He replaces termed out Co-Chair Brian Leubitz, who co-led the club through the Mayor and D3 Supervisor races in 2015, and then in 2016 helped navigate several ballot initiatives, Supervisor races as well as the Wiener/Kim race for Mark Leno’s SD11 Senate. I had the pleasure of being Brian’s Co-Chair in 2015. He is a highly respected Alice Board member and Democratic activist, and a pleasure to work with. He leaves big shoes for Eric to fill, which I am confident he will with aplomb.
There is a lot to get involved with at the local, state and national level. As President Obama stated in his farewell address earlier this week:
“Ultimately, that’s what our democracy demands. It needs you. Not just when there’s an election, not just when your own narrow interest is at stake, but over the full span of a lifetime. If you’re tired of arguing with strangers on the Internet, try to talk with one in real life. If something needs fixing, lace up your shoes and do some organizing. If you’re disappointed by your elected officials, grab a clipboard, get some signatures, and run for office yourself. Show up. Dive in. Persevere.”
Zoe Dunning is a retired Navy Commander and was a lead activist in the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. She served as Co-Chair of the Board of Directors for the Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club and as an elected Delegate for the Democratic National Convention. She is a San Francisco Library Commissioner and is the former First Vice Chair of the San Francisco Democratic Party.