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    Election Slates Wield Powerful Influence

    Zoe Dunning

    Zoe Dunning

    The California primary is coming up very soon, on June 7. Many people are talking about the presidential candidates, but it seems the San Francisco Democratic County Central Committee (DCCC) race has been the hottest ticket in town.

    There are 60 candidates running, and most are running as part of one of two “slates.” There is the “Reform Slate,” which you can loosely label the far left, Aaron Peskin/David Campos team; and the “Progress Slate,” which you can loosely label the Mary Jung/Scott Wiener team. There have been many slates before in DCCC races, but they have typically been organized affiliations of like-minded candidates that pool a modest amount of resources to do joint literature and campaigning.

    This year, both of the powerhouse slates are far more organized, with additional resources, field support, and multiple mail pieces. As a member of the Progress slate, alongside many great Democratic activists such as Rebecca Prozan, Alix Rosenthal, Leah Pimentel, Gary McCoy and Francis Tsang, I’ve seen the difference since 2012. Many folks feel like this year’s DCCC race will determine the direction of San Francisco politics and the city for the next 8 years, and that is why there is so much interest and investment.

    Being part of a slate means you can expand your reach significantly. As a candidate, you are not just handing out your own literature, but are sharing the message about all of your fellow slate members, and they are doing the same for you. In elections where there are multiple seats, voters have to choose multiple names on their ballot, so it can be helpful for them to have a list of like-minded candidates at their fingertips.

    I learned the power of a slate earlier this month when I ran to be a district delegate for Hillary Clinton. The selection of delegates was divided by gender, as the party desires to ensure there is gender equality in the selection process, so women run against each other for the women’s “slots” and the men run for the male “slots.” There were 60 women running in my district (Leader Nancy Pelosi’s congressional district), and many applied because they are passionate about Hillary but had no experience “running” for a position that requires people to vote for you.

    A few of us who have experience running in elections formed slates: two women and two men formed a slate of their own, and City College Trustee Amy Bacharach and I formed our own slate of four women. All five of the women’s delegate slots went to women on these two slates, and the two men were also elected. Cam-

    One of the downsides of the slate strategy is that those who are not “insiders,” or are not on a slate, have a tremendous disadvantage. The sixteen DCCC candidates not on either the Progress or Reform slates have to really hustle. One candidate I have tremendous respect for is Shaun Haines, who did not end up on either slate but is working it every day. I see him actively seeking Democratic Club endorsements, doing visibility at transit stops, and getting his name and his story out there on social media. These candidates have to rely more on the Democratic Clubs to endorse them and include them in their club slates and mailers. In Shaun’s case, being highlighted on the Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club slate will help him tremendously.


    Another downside to the slate process, as I see it, is that it continues to drive a wedge between the “two shades of blue” we have in this crazy city. To survive you sort of have to pick a team and pick a side. Those who want to be more independent have almost insurmountable odds of getting elected. This Reform vs. Progress slate battle drives an even deeper us vs. them mentality. When I first ran four years ago, often the first questions from a voter or a donor was, “Are you a Progressive or a Moderate?” When I tried to deflect the assumption, and state that I consider myself more solutions-driven than ideology-driven, I was often met with frustration. Some elected officials have tried to navigate these waters and stay uncommitted to any one side. London Breed and David Chiu certainly have done it while serving as President of the Board of Supervisors, but it is not easy.


    So look for more mail, more candidates at transit stops, and more volunteers knocking on your door asking for your vote in unprecedented numbers for this DCCC race. It is going to be a fierce campaign season!


    In closing, I’d like to share one story from the campaign trail. When doing visibility at a transit stop or farmers market, I usually ask people as they pass by, “Are you a San Francisco voter?” to determine whether to hand them a campaign flyer. Many say yes, some say they live elsewhere in the Bay Area, and some say they are not citizens and can’t vote. Twice now, however, I’ve had young men tell me they can’t vote because they have been convicted of a felony. There is confusion out there over what the rules are, so when the first young man asked, we looked it up on my phone together. In California, a felon can’t vote if they are incarcerated or on parole. If they are neither, they are indeed eligible to vote in the state, even for federal office races such as President and Senator.


    In both cases I was able to give these young men the good news that they can, in fact, register to vote. I even provided a voter registration card for one right on the spot. It’s important to reintegrate these young men and women after they have served their debt to society, and not continue to punish them by denying them a voice in our government. Not all states agree, but I am proud that California has evolved to this philosophy and policy.


    It’s these situations—meeting people and hearing their stories—that keep me going strong throughout this campaign. I hope you vote on or before June 7, because this election is important for so many reasons.


    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. She currently serves as the First Vice Chair of the San Francisco Democratic Party and as a San Francisco Library Commissioner.