SLO County Democrats: mastering the road ahead
December 15, 2016
OPINION by STEW JENKINS
Editor’s note: A column by Democrat Stew Jenkins will run in CalCoastNews every other Thursday, rotating with a column by Republican Mike Brown.
Shock! Democrats are tired of focusing on the reaction for San Luis Obispo County Democrats to the Nov. 8 election. Five weeks out, it is time to stop bellyaching and face the reasons for the losses to focus on winning seats to give the people of San Luis Obispo County dynamic leaders who will actually represent them.
The election results for this county could not have been more predictable for those with eyes to see and ears to hear.
The campaign for the State Assembly run on behalf of Dawn Ortiz Legg demonstrated starkly why my Democratic Party lost in spite of all the work done by volunteers and labor unions here increasing Democratic voter registration over the last 12 years. By contrast, the campaign run by Heidi Harmon showed that Democrats with genuine principled goals for people will win out.
Chris Hayes, one of the most thoughtful of MSNBC’s commentators, observed many months ago that he’d concluded that the “con” in political consultant frequently stood for “con man.” He cited examples of the consultants conning candidates into running expensive and counterproductive ad buys and mailers.
Why? He observed the consultant’s pay was often calculated by a percentage of the cost of the ad and mailer buys. Worse, the content of the ads and mailers were easily filled with half-truths, misdirection, and outright deception; trying to sucker campaign donors into funding the ad buys and seeking to dupe voters outright.
A look at Ortiz Legg’s campaign finance reports shows that as of Oct. 22, two weeks, two days before the election, Dawn’s campaign had raised $1,749,000. A shower of large late contribution reports thereafter is likely to push this well above $2,000,000 by the end of year report.
If you wondered why, every day, for weeks, you kept receiving Ortiz Legg’s giant color glossy campaign cards repeating the same repellent focus-group tested “message” over and over again, you were not alone. You couldn’t turn on the radio, TV, or log onto the internet without hearing and seeing the same Ortiz Legg “talking points” about Dawn and her attacks on Republican Jordan Cunningham.
With so much spent, what reason for the loss? Quite simple really. The candidate and her paid political consultants spent millions treating the voters like they were stupid. Voters are actually quite perceptive and don’t cotton to being insulted and lied to.
They understood implicitly that Legg’s work as a public relations contractor for a corporate energy company did not make her a “job creator.” Constituents, especially those who knew Ortiz Legg, weren’t really upset about her opposing the Iraq war through her leadership in Code Pink; but they felt lied to and let down when Dawn pretended not to have been involved. Why would she try to bury one of her prouder values?
One doesn’t know if Dawn let State Democratic Party leadership know about her DUI and Marijuana convictions when they were vetting her to target the 35th Assembly District. It is possible that local citizens would have overlooked both if Ortiz Legg had been up front about those transgressions. Instead she denied ever being convicted of anything. And worse, she and her consultants focused on a false claim that Jordan Cunningham must love wife beaters because as a private lawyer he defended an accused in a criminal case. You’ve got to think voters are mentally stunted if you think they would believe something that whacko.
Liberals, populists and progressives, who as a group are passionate about civil rights, like the right of an accused to have a lawyer’s help defending him/herself, were outraged that a Democrat would attack the Republican candidate for actually protecting civil rights. Not only did Legg Ortiz show herself to be a hypocrite, having herself needed criminal defense, but her cynical message was the kind of attack that showed her Republican opponent was devoted to the same Civil Rights that Democratic Party voters hold near and dear.
Ortiz Legg’s Campaign Finance Reports suggest her campaign was run out of Sacramento. So, it is difficult to know whether this attack on civil rights was Legg Ortiz’s own idea, or the strategy of her consultants. If it was the former it demonstrates critically poor judgment by Ortiz Legg; if instead the consultants dictated that attack it establishes that Ortiz Legg didn’t have the fortitude and gravitas to keep her political henchmen under control.
The truth is, San Luis Obispo County voters favor classic Democratic Party principles. Heidi Harmon openly campaigned on these principles. They are the same laid down by Franklin Roosevelt on January 6, 1941: Freedom of speech and religion, economic opportunity, employment, social security, and the promise of adequate health care. And now freedom from polluted air and water, and the cascade of their effects on climate, farming, fisheries and human health.
The road ahead is about personal connections by Democrats and our candidates with voters focused on achieving these freedoms, and the chance to put those principles to work for all. Political “con”-sultants continuing to spend Millions on half-truths, misdirection, and deception will only impoverish our souls and lull our party into the cynical self-fulfilling prophesy that San Luis Obispo County is a Republican county.
Stew Jenkins is a liberal San Luis Obispo County Democrat who supports the rights of working people to organize unions, the prudence of the cities and county growing the local economy through project labor agreements, the right of all people to health care and equal dignity. He is an attorney practicing in San Luis Obispo since 1978. Jenkins’ handles tax payer suits, municipal law, estate planning and family law.