Tom Fulks

SLO Progressives had a great year, and they’re looking to expand their influence in 2019

Tom Fulks
Tom Fulks

Local Democrats are facing one of the most consequential political years in memory.

With the 2020 California primary pushed up three months to March 3, our state joins Texas, Virginia and North Carolina for an early “Super Tuesday” presidential-year primary. Voting by mail starts four weeks prior to that — just over 12 short months from now.

This means campaigns for all local, state and national offices on California’s 2020 primary ballot will be hard at it for most of 2019.

The local political year starts Sunday (for print readers, that’s today, Jan. 13), when 14 seats on the SLO County Democratic Central Committee are up for election among registered Democrats.

Known as the ADEM election, there are seats open for seven women and seven men to represent the 35th Assembly District on the Central Committee. The committee’s membership helps determine the direction of the Democratic Party at the local, state and national levels.

The ADEM election runs from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Sunday at the Sierra Vista Hospital Auditorium. Registered Democrats who live in AD35 (SLO County plus parts of northern Santa Barbara County) are eligible to vote. Voter registration is on site.

The SLO County Democratic Central Committee is made up of about 60 members: 14 ADEMS, 21 elected from county supervisorial districts (I’m elected from the 2nd District), local city and county elected officials registered as Democrats, local Dem club representatives and appointees from the Democratic state Assembly candidate, state Sen. Bill Monning and U.S. Rep. Salud Carbajal.

Historically, the local ADEM election was a non-event — viewed as an arcane, inside-baseball yawner, peopled by political geeks, with results known well in advance. Two years ago, that all changed because amped-up local Progressives, inspired then by Bernie Sanders’ run for president, turned out in force for the first time.

In 2017, nearly 700 local Progressives stood in the rain for hours at the local IBEW union hall to vote for their slate — who, once elected, upended the local status quo, taking control of the Central Committee with a new energy and sense of urgency, offending some old-timers.

By late 2018, that energy translated into impressive gains: general election candidates endorsed by the Central Committee gained or maintained majorities on the city councils of San Luis Obispo, Arroyo Grande, Morro Bay and Grover Beach. The one Democrat running for City Council in Atascadero also won, and SLO Mayor Heidi Harmon won a second term by a resounding 63-35 percent after eking out a razor-thin victory two years prior.

This year, Progressives have again fielded a slate of 14 candidates with a platform promoting Medicare for all, addressing income inequality, reinvigorating climate change policy and stimulating economic prosperity through education and infrastructure investments. Though a few others are running, no other formal slate is challenging the Progressives.

Our local Progressives are aiming high, hoping to influence the direction of the entire California Democratic Party. The main event there is a tough party chair election at the state convention at the end of May.

Several high-powered candidates are vying to replace disgraced former Chair Eric Bauman, forced to resign amid a sexual harassment scandal. These include Bay Area Progressive Kimberly Ellis, former state Sen. Kevin de Leon, president of the LA County AFL-CIO Rusty Hicks and, potentially, women’s caucus Vice Chair Christine Pelosi and state Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer.

Selecting Bauman’s replacement is probably the biggest decision ADEMS will make this term because it will have a direct bearing on the direction of the national party and its presidential nominee in 2020.

This seat is key to California’s influence on the 2020 presidential race because at least four Californians (Sen. Kamala Harris, LA Mayor Eric Garcetti, Bay Area Congressman Eric Swalwell and billionaire Tom Steyer) give indications of running. An endorsement from the state party would afford any candidate an early bump.

California has the largest bloc of Electoral College votes and it’s the most ethnically diverse state in the nation. Moving California up on the calendar provides a much better sense of how candidates will compete in more diverse states — such as New York, Illinois and Ohio — than in small, ethnically homogenous states such as Iowa and New Hampshire, which get outsized attention.

Local office seekers take note: The campaign season for 2020 has begun.

Liberal columnist Tom Fulks serves on the San Luis Obispo County Democratic Central Committee.