Category Archives: Electoral politics

My thoughts on possible District Voting in Benicia

By Roger Straw, January 17, 2020
Roger Straw, The Benicia Independent

On Tuesday January 21, Benicia’s City Council will consider a proposal to change our electoral process from At-Large voting for Council candidates to four newly-defined small geographical districts.  Benicia citizens need to pay attention to this – it may sound ok, but consider…

I think our ability to join forces against the massive and mean-spirited outside corporate influences we saw in our 2018 election would be immeasurably weakened by adoption of district voting.

In 2018, a PAC funded by Valero Services and organized labor spent over $200,000 to smear and defeat Council candidate Kari Birdseye.  (See below for background.)  A similar campaign was waged against candidate Elizabeth Patterson in 2007.

A Council campaign funded and run in a small Benicia district would not be capable of standing up to limitless corporate PAC money.  And Benicia is way too small to be divided into four districts capable of finding and supporting multiple competitive candidates across the political spectrum.

In many cities, district voting makes sense as a measure to strengthen and empower concentrated minority groups.  Note that I am decidedly in FAVOR of empowering minority voting strength, especially when it comes to racial and ethnic minorities.  Most of us would agree.  But Benicia’s racial and ethnic mix is not concentrated in any linear district – so district voting would do absolutely nothing to advance minority voting strength.

What about other sub-groups in geographically defined parts of Benicia?

Our Southampton hills 1) is already represented by Mr. Largaespada, 2) could have elected Kari Birdseye as a Southampton neighbor if she hadn’t been targeted and smeared, and 3) had Mark Hughes as a resident Council member for years.  I’m guessing Southampton probably had a few more Council members going back before my time.

A case CAN probably be made that Benicia’s East Side has been underrepresented over the years – but district voting would create more problems than it would fix for Eastsiders.  IMPORTANT: How could an underfunded campaign in a smaller population on the East side possibly put up a fight against Valero and organized labor?!

CORRECTION: A kind reader has pointed out that current Council member Tom Campbell lives on Benicia’s East side.  Campbell and former Council member Jan Cox-Golovich live in a section of town north of Military and just EAST of an imaginary First Street dividing line.

MY CONCLUSION: District voting would only give outside big money greater strength to stack our City Council.


Your voice is important!


BACKGROUND ON BENICIA’S 2018 CORPORATE SMEAR CAMPAIGN

    • My background article on Jan 6, 2020 with quote from SF Chronicle, stating over $200,000 was spent by the Valero PAC.  My comment: “Kari ran for City Council in 2018 in a field of 4, competing for 2 seats on Council.  Only she didn’t just run against her opponents.  She ran against a $200,000-plus smear campaign orchestrated by Benicia Valero Refinery and its friends in organized labor.  The three major candidates’ campaigns spent less than $30,000 each, while Valero saturated our phone lines, mailboxes, newspapers and social media with misinformation and ugly photos.”
    • My post-election call on Nov 12 2018 for Council action to reform campaign spending – including comparison of the $200,000 with candidate spending of under $30,000 each.
    • My Oct 28 2018 article just before the Nov election which reported a smear campaign total of $155,000 as of that time. My  comment in that article: “News broke in late September that a major worldwide corporate power had bullied its way into our local democratic process.  Valero Services Inc., based in Texas but with 115 subsidiaries in Delaware, Michigan, Canada and several wealthy Caribbean nations, decided it wanted to buy a seat on the Benicia City Council. Their first strategy was to spend an unknown amount of money to employ two national firms, EMC Research and Research America, to conduct a nasty telephone “push poll,” blatantly mischaracterizing and demeaning one candidate for Council and painting rosy pictures of two others.  When our City Attorney challenged the polling firms, Valero Refinery executive Don Wilson admitted that Valero paid for the poll, but neither he nor the polling firms would comply with our demands for more information.”
    • Weekly and daily reporting of details as the smear campaign unfolded: beniciaindependent.com/?s=birdseye
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    Gun control links – renewed call to VOTE THEM OUT!

    By Roger Straw
    [Originally published in the spring of 2018 following the Parkland, FL mass shooting, republished here in November 2018 following mass shootings in Pittsburgh, PA and Thousand Oaks, CA.  – R.S.]

    School shootings and other mass murders will never stop until we elect new leaders who are willing to stand up to the NRA.  Below you will find links to organizations dedicated to ending gun violence.  Many are focusing on electing new leaders who stand for change.  Please click on at least one today – sign a petition, make a contribution, join or start a new group.  Renew your commitment to resist!

    National

    Everytown For Gun Safety (everytown.org/throwthemout/)

    header


    Guns Down America (gunsdownamerica.org/)


    States United to Prevent Gun Violence (ceasefireusa.org/)

    States United to Prevent Gun Violence


    Indivisible (indivisible.org)


    The Campaign to Keep Guns Off Campus (keepgunsoffcampus.org/)


    Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence (lawcenter.giffords.org/take-action/)


    Coalition to Stop Gun Violence (csgv.org/)


    California & Benicia

    Bay Area Student Activists (bayareastudentactivists.org/)

    Bay Area Student Activists


    Benicia March For Our Lives (facebook.com/groups/529647794085732/)


     

    North Bay|#NEVERAGAIN (twitter.com/nbayNEVERAGAIN)

    North Bay|#NEVERAGAIN


    northbayneveragain (instagram.com/northbayneveragain/)


    Women Against Gun Violence (wagv.org/)


    Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, California Chapters (bradycampaign.org/)

    Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence logo


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      Benicia isn’t the only one – big oil money inserts itself in Petaluma & Santa Rosa races

      Repost from the Santa Rosa Press Democrat
      [Editor: note some of the same unfriendly giants as in Benicia: Valero Energy of course, and the law firm Nielsen Merksamer (“Bay Area-based law and lobbying firm that specializes in political and public-sector cases”).  – R.S.]

      Oil and real estate interests pour money into Petaluma and Santa Rosa races

      By Will Schmitt & Hannah Beausang, November 2, 2018, 8:57PM
      Candidates for Petaluma Mayor include, from left, Mike Harris, Teresa Barrett, and Brian Powell.

      More than $100,000 from oil and real estate interests has been funneled into city council races in Sonoma County’s two largest cities, highlighting how outside groups have ponied up to influence voters in the Nov. 6 election.

      Of the pair of independent expenditure campaigns, the most visible has been in Petaluma, where a committee backed by several large oil companies has poured more than $78,000 into the race for mayor, according to campaign finance records.

      The second spending effort is by a national real estate group that has spent more than $31,000 in favor of several city council candidates in Petaluma and Santa Rosa.

      In Petaluma especially, the rush of outside spending has caused a stir. The two campaigns there have separately generated mailers supporting two mayoral candidates — Mike Harris and Brian Powell — and online ads and mailers supporting Harris and two others running for council seats, incumbent Dave King and candidate Michael Regan.

      Brian Sobel, a Petaluma- based political analyst and former city councilman, called the level of outside spending in the city election unprecedented.

      “It’s not been in Petaluma’s tradition or history to have independent expenditures committees singling out individual candidates and supporting them,” Sobel said.

      Campaign finance rules limit individual donations directly to candidate campaigns to $200 in Petaluma and $500 in Santa Rosa per donor per election cycle. But there is no cap on how much money individuals or organizations can dole out through independent expenditure committees. The committees must report their spending to election authorities and are barred from coordinating with candidates.

      Independent expenditures to sway elections are not new, though their prevalence and power has increased since the 2010 Citizens United case before the U.S. Supreme Court. It did away with independent political spending limits for corporations, labor groups and other entities on free-speech grounds.

      The group responsible for the largest amount of spending in Petaluma this year goes by the name Coalition to Restore California’s Middle Class, Including Energy Companies who Produce Gas, Oil, Jobs and Pay Taxes. The committee has received millions of dollars from oil giants Chevron, Valero Energy and Phillips 66, according to campaign finance documents filed with the California Secretary of State.

      The committee reported spending about $62,300 as of Friday to support Harris, a former councilman who is making his second bid for the mayor’s post. The oil-backed group also reported spending $15,800 in favor of Powell, a political newcomer and environmentalist who has embraced a strong anti-growth platform for the city.

      Powell, Harris and Councilwoman Teresa Barrett are vying to replace Mayor David Glass, who is retiring.

      The oil-backed coalition’s motives were not immediately obvious.

      The phone number listed on the filings is associated with the San Rafael office of Nielsen Merksamer, a Bay Area-based law and lobbying firm that specializes in political and public-sector cases. Chevron Corp., Valero Energy and Philips 66 are listed as clients on the firm’s website.

      Steven Lucas, the coalition’s registered agent, did not respond to requests for comment.

      Barrett said she believed the outside spending was an attempt to bolster the chances of her rivals for the mayor’s post and deny her a public platform. Barrett is a strong pro-environment voice who serves on the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, which regulates regional refineries. The district’s leadership comprises local elected officials, and Barrett would have to step down if she came up short in the mayor’s race, she noted.

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        Support for candidate Josh Harder – California’s 10th Congressional District

        Repost of an email from SwingLeft
        [Editor: Anything we can do to help flip California’s 10th Congressional District (Northern San Joaquin Valley, including Modesto, Tracy, etc.) – we should do!  This is a fundraiser email, but it has good info about candidate Josh Harder and his Trumpish Republican opponent.  Josh Harder’s website is at harderforcongress.com.  – RS]

        Hey Swing Left CA-10,

        Meet your Democratic nominee, Josh Harder, who accepted the nomination in CA-10 last week!  Harder is a small business leader who teaches at Modesto Junior College. He’s campaigning on Medicare for All, immigration reform, and investing in infrastructure for the Central Valley. He also wants to overturn Citizens United, restore the Voting Rights Act and put an end to gerrymandering.

        His opponent, Republican incumbent Jeff Denham, voted to repeal Obamacare, voted for the GOP Tax Scam, and is against women’s right to choose. He’s also taken money from the NRA. On the subject of climate change, he says “nobody really knows the cause” and doubled down with a cynical and glib suggestion that “maybe we should kill the cows to stop the methane, or stop breathing to stop the CO2.” We say maybe he shouldn’t be a member of the House anymore!

        Make a contribution to Josh Harder’s campaign through Swing Left right now.

        Grassroots donors have already raised more than $200,000 for the Swing Left District Fund for CA-10, which has been given directly to Josh Harder’s campaign. Early money like this enables candidates to hire campaign staff, open offices, and buy ad time at a cheaper rate to help flip this important seat blue.

        Now that we’re in the general election season, there are two big ways you can help Democrats take back the House in November:

        1. Make a contribution to Josh Harder in CA-10. Your donation will go directly to his campaign, where it can have the biggest impact.
        2. Stay involved. Forward this email to your friends and let them know about the official nominee for your Swing District. We’ll be in touch soon with more opportunities to hear directly from the candidate and volunteer to help the campaign win in November.

        Thanks!

        Ethan, Miriam, Michelle, Matt, and the Swing Left Team

        P.S. Here’s Josh accepting his Big Blue Check. Let’s keep it going!


        Paid for by Swing Left, swingleft.org, and not authorized by any candidate or candidate’s committee.
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