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Even in the “post-fact” political era in which we apparently now find ourselves, Carl Luna’s opinion piece on the 2016 election outcomes was astonishingly ill-informed.
The lack of a marquee Democratic candidate in the mayor’s race this year was attributable to one thing only: a system that allows candidates to be elected in June, when as few as 20 percent of voters participate and the electorate skews conservative. To address that systemic failure, labor and community groups successfully sponsored Measure K, which will require the top two candidates in the June primary to face a runoff in November, when the electorate more accurately reflects the progressive tilt of our region.
This victory, more than that of any single candidate, will change the face of city government.
Going into this election year, retaining a progressive majority on the San Diego City Council was far from assured, especially with Ray Ellis’ strong challenge from the right in District 1. A picture-perfect campaign by Barbara Bry, with support from labor and other progressive groups, not only beat Ellis, but effectively pushed him out of the race. And in District 9, labor-endorsed Democratic candidate Georgette Gomez beat the other Democratic candidate who was financed and supported by Mayor Kevin Faulconer and the Chamber of Commerce. Luna asserted that retaining a progressive majority on the City Council was a walkover, but I’d call those significant wins.
And let’s not just skim over the victory of longshot Mara Elliott over her well-financed Republican opponent.
The Labor Council, which I lead, did not endorse Dave Roberts because of his failure to stand up for working families. While his loss does mean the historically conservative County Supervisor Board of Directors will continue to be made up entirely of Republicans, I don’t consider his defeat a loss for labor.
Labor aggressively supported Doug Applegate with money, ground troops and earned media. Yes, Applegate fell short overall by fewer than 2,000 votes, but he won San Diego County by 6 percent against an eight-term Republican incumbent. I would hardly call that sitting it out.
As to the “safer school and college board races” Luna claims were labor’s focus – yes, labor fought hard to keep the County Board of Education and other boards out of the hands of charter school supporters, who spent the most money in history on these usually low-profile races, much of it from Wal-Mart heiress Alice Walton. Education candidates at every level faced opponents sympathetic to the goal of privatizing education. Believe me, those seats sure didn’t feel safe before Election Day.
But labor also endorsed 62 candidates for seats up and down the ticket and won 69 percent of the time. Those winning candidates will help shape a progressive future for our region and fill out the bench for future races.
I do, however, agree with Luna’s assessment that demographics aren’t destiny. As the leader of the Labor Council, I can assure San Diegans that I am not waiting for the numbers to do the job for me. I am actively forming partnerships with other progressive organizations, just as was done for Measure K; I am engaged in a variety of strategies to recruit and train grassroots leadership and future candidates; and the Labor Council and I will lead a progressive agenda at the county, city and other levels that makes it clear to San Diegans who their real champions are.
Dale Kelly Bankhead is secretary-treasurer for the San Diego-Imperial Counties Labor Council. Kelly Bankhead’s commentary has been edited for style and clarity. See anything in there we should fact check? Tell us what to check out here.