North Bay progressive allies eye 2020 election in wrap up of midterms

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Election Info

Midterm Coverage: To see our midterm election coverage, click here.

Election Results: To see results for local elections, click here.

Change, resolve and collaboration.

Those buzzwords were repeated time and again by dozens of speakers at the biannual postelection wrapup hosted Saturday by Sonoma County Conservation Action and allied progressive organizations from the county’s prevailing political left.

The “Blue-Green Eggs and Ham” event celebrated wins last fall at the ballot box by the Democratic Party, which reclaimed control of the House of Representatives and secured a supermajority in the state Legislature.

“We have more women serving than in recent history, and that is because of activists and voters like you,” said Assemblyman Jim Wood, D-Santa Rosa, one of many Democratic lawmakers on hand inside the packed room at the Odd Fellows Hall in Santa Rosa. “At the state Assembly we now have 60 Democrats serving, and that means 2020, we are coming for you.”

In his keynote speech, Greg Sarris, chairman of the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, urged greater political unity among those in the crowd, especially to confront environmental issues.

He also called out the county’s signature wine industry, a warning shot lobbed by a newly emboldened and moneyed political player whose tribe spent at least $329,000 on a pair of housing and park-related campaigns in the recent election.

“There are some vineyards in our backyard that are exploiting workers and destroying the environment,” Sarris said without sharing names. “We need more organic farming and more money towards saving our environment.”

A pair of panel sessions included newly elected city council members and school board leaders.

Daisy Pistey-Lyhne, executive director for Sonoma County Conservation Action, the largest local environmental group, kicked off the discussions with a summary of notable data points from the 2018 midterms.

About 120 million people voted, 143 women were elected to Congress, 28 are mothers of young children, 20 are people of color, 10 identify as LGBTQ members, and 10 are advocates of aggressive moves to combat climate change, Pistey-Lyhne noted to applause.

Maddy Hirshfield, political director for the North Bay Labor Council, the largest regional labor coalition, said canvassing for the 2018 midterms was the largest the group had ever rolled out. It spanned Sonoma, Marin, Lake and Mendocino counties and reached over 4,000 potential voters, she said.

“We did the local work and endorsed people who were pro-labor, first-time candidates and ended up with clean sweeps for three candidates” in city council races within Sonoma County, Hirshfield said.

One of the newly elected city officials, Windsor Councilwoman Esther Lemus, said the tight field in her contest gave her extra motivation on the campaign trail.

“I had to face off against 10 candidates for only three spots in Windsor, and I did not anticipate there would be so many qualified people,” she said. “I woke up daily at 5 a.m. to walk the streets and to knock on doors to meet voters.”

Increasing gender equity at the top of local government requires extra resolve on the part of female candidates, said newly re-elected Sonoma Councilwoman Rachel Hundley. She recounted political attacks she faced, including an anonymous website that she called “an attempted character assassination.”

“The negative attacks did not sway my supporters,” Hundley said.

Work and family obligations shouldered by women and minorities limit their ability to participate in the political process and seek public office, panelists said. They said greater access was needed to diversify representation at the city and county level.

Election Info

Midterm Coverage: To see our midterm election coverage, click here.

Election Results: To see results for local elections, click here.

“Working mothers have a hard time accessing their local governments because they cannot attend meetings at different times during the week,” said Lemus, a deputy district attorney and mother of two young children. “Those voices will be most important to shaping public policy as we move forward.”

Speakers stuck closely to messages of unity and sidestepped some prickly issues and disputes that arose in the recent election.

There were no public discussions over Santa Rosa’s failed $124 million housing bond, which voters rejected after an opposition campaign spearheaded by the North Bay Labor Council and bankrolled by the Graton Rancheria. The defeat marked a bitter split in the traditional labor-environmental alliance, with green groups joining housing advocates and business interests in support of the measure.

Members of the opposing campaigns were in attendance Saturday.

It was a busy day for local Democrats all in all, with district elections for the state party taking place in a room next door at the Odd Fellows Hall. Hundreds of party representatives from across the state came to cast their votes for delegates to the state party.

“People do not realize that everything is local,” said Debra Broner, the Region 1 West director for the California Democratic Party. Broner has been involved as a party volunteer and has served as the vice chairwoman for the LGBTQ state chapter.

“I believe in this party,” Broner said, “and whenever I get disheartened by what’s happening in D.C., I focus on what change is happening locally.”

You can reach Staff Writer Alexandria Bordas at 707-521-5337 or alexandria.bordas@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @CrossingBordas.

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