SLO County Democrats: mastering the road ahead

December 15, 2016
Stew Jenkins

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.


The ridiculous mailers seemed to represent two different campaigns, looking at the i.d. on where they were from. Dawn’s own campaign sent some, but most were from the state democratic party itself. So who was actually running this campaign? Do the dollar figures for the campaign include the state party’s part?

Anyway, it all became quite tiresome long before the election. Some days we got 3 different mailers touting her, and every day for about a month there was at least one.

Why did the party put so much effort into this district? It’s a republican district, so why not just let it be? It’s not as if electing her would make any difference in Sacramento, since the dems already control the Assembly.

This seat’s nothing but a sacrificial one for the dems. Oh, and Stew didn’t mention it, but not too long ago, Harmon was the sacrificial lamb running for this same seat.


Stew… traditional Democratic party principles ended with the death of John F. Kennedy. Since then, your party has been co-opted by an increasingly regressive Alt left crowd that refuses to accept the core values of what it means to be an American, in exchange for everything but. It took 50 years of failed policies for you to finally find that out. Until your party’s pendulum swings back, get used to loosing. Hopefully it will swing back, so we can have healthy constructive dialogue as our system intends.


Right on Stew, your observations reflect mine as well. It is to your credit to call out the bad stuff even when applied to one in your own party, that is the type of honesty we need in our society.

Mitch C

While I never agree with Mr. Jenkins about anything, even I have to admit that the article was well written, insightful, and well-reasoned.


Interesting that even Stew Jenkins saw, and very astutely identified the problems with Ortiz-Legg as well as her campaign.

One thing he mentioned, is the hard working Union members working on her and most, if not all Democrat campaigns. The Democratic Party has been co-opted by the Union hierarchy, benefiting the Union bosses with a trickle down to the workers themselves. Percentage of Union workers is at a all time low. Union contractors are no longer competitive for anything but Government projects, where the Democratic Party and Legislators receive millions in Campaign contributions to legislate that all Government projects, at grossly inflated Union or mandated, matching wages, are used for all government projects.

We all know about our deteriorating infrastructure, roads etc, but politicians won’t look at the fact that the cost of replacing, repairing or maintaining these items cost twice as much for what contractors charge for private works projects.

At one time Union Contractors were competitive with non Union Contractors, yes Union workers made more, but made up for it, by being better trained and more efficient than there non Union counterparts.

So it seems that the Democratic Party is for the Union people not the working and regular people:(

If the Democratic Party got out of bed with the Union hierarchy, twice as many infrastructure and or works projects could be done, for the same amount of money, employing twice as many people!!!


Union is synonym with democracy’s adherents simply people organized to achieve possibilities ,united states is a big ole union ffs the more people the more power a frightening thing for the exclusives dependent but disparate of increasing mass.


A perspective of what we can achieve in the future a what’s possible party.


Why did the Democrat Party spend so much money? Because they could. This District has been Republican since the 1920s and maybe longer. And the Dems control the Assembly AND Senate AND Governorship.


Public works projects pay what is called union scale, the supposedly predominant wage in the area; but since private wages are unknown and not tracked, the government uses union scale wages as the predominant or “prevailing” wage. They are much higher and so public works projects cost a lot more.

The problem occurs when only union contractors are allowed to work on these jobs. It’s called a Project Labor Agreement and keeps out non-union contractors, who compose 90 percent of the contractors around here. The unions love PLAs because the non union contractors must join the union for the duration of the project, pay union dues, pay into union benefit funds, retirement funds, etc., but since they are not vested, the money just goes to the unions, not the workers. It’s really a scam.

Cuesta College decided against a PLA almost two years ago despite extremely heavy lobbying by the trade unions. As a result local contractors can work there without having to pay into the unions. The money for benefits will go to their workers, who are actually working, and not some union bosses. For many nonunion contractors, landing a prevailing wage job enables them to keep workers here in a very costly place to live. Would I prefer to these public works jobs to cost less? Of course. But at least the money is going to someone working for it.


Probably not a good idea to equate the Democratic Party with anything close to being progressive as nothing could be further from the truth… Just another right wing of the one party oligarchy serving to keep people distracted while the corporate elite rake in the bucks off of the backs, bodies and misery of the working class and poor… While the republican wing is the more obvious evil, (Unless you’re a psychopath, billionaire, or part of the corporate elite) the Democratic wing is often the far “More Effective Evil.”

Rich in MB

The Liberal Bubble Continues.

More big Government when the results clearly show it has failed.


The reasons I did not vote for Ortiz-Legg (I am a liberal but voted for Cunningham), are described perfectly by Mr. Jenkins in this article. Her failure to disclose and, in fact, lie about her previous convictions, along with attacking Cunningham for doing his job (as a defense attorney) left me with the impression that she is not someone to be trusted. A person who would say anything just to get elected. And yes, I was sick and tired of those big glossy mailers filling up my mailbox. She was one of the worst offenders, but definitely not the only one.


Very good points Mr. Jenkins you hit the nail on the head with your observations