Saturday, December 03, 2005

State of Dem Party in San Joaquin County

In recent posts in other threads, two opposing views for the state of Democratic Party in SJ Country have emerged:

Here is Matt:

One big reason [for McNerney's big loss in San Joaquin County] is the complete and utter lack of an effective Democratic Party infrastructure in the county. Margee Ensign said she was considering running in 2004 but there was nobody in SJC to help her. She wasn't kidding. The Democratic Party has consistently allowed the grassroots infrastructure to deteriorate in that area. Except for recent events, some of which were complete due to the McNerney Campaign of 2004, the Democratic Party has written SJC off.

(Note, I know that there are Democratic elected officials in SJC, but it's pretty clear that they're more interested in running their own machine than in building the party. This, at least, has been a common opinion voiced to me).

And here is Jesse:

Matt, I fundamentally disagree with your description of the San Joaquin County political infrastructure and the people that play a role in it. But I don't know that I care to respond to your generalizations and opinions about the motivations of people. I respect your right to hold these opinions.

But, I will make these comments about my perception of the Democratic party in San Joaquin County. I was raised in one of the poorest areas of Stockton. I've lived in the 11th Congressional District since I returned to the area in 1988. I have not been politically active in recent years for personal reasons. Over the years, however, I have been politically active in partisan and non-partisan races. I think that I know enough about the people in the Democratic party here to form an opinion and disagree with you.

Matt, I believe that any serious candidate would be able to mount a campaign in this District for any partisan or nonpartisan race.

So which is it? Is the Dem party in San Joaquin effective and organized or not? There is obviously some organization. There are currently 74,534 registered Democrats in the 11th District part of the county (versus 92,692 Republicans). The San Joaquin County Democratic Party lists nine local clubs. Two state legislative seats in the county are occupied by Democrats -- State Sen. Mike Machado and State Assemblywoman Barbara Matthews. Also, the 18th Congressional District, which includes part of SJ County, is represented by Democrat Dennis Cardoza.

But probably the Dem Party could grow over there and become more of an influence. The Dem voter registration has lagged in the county, with 4,000 new Dems versus 13,000 new Repubs since 2000. Maybe interest groups that would tend towards Democrats have not been approached -- student and youths, immigrants, labor, environmentalists, etc. Maybe Republicans have been more effective in the voter registration drives.

One glaring point is that there are 74,534 Dem voters in the county, but in the 2004 election, McNerney only got 47,515 votes in that county. Where were the other 25,000 voters? Pombo, by contrast, got 96,183 votes when there were only 92,692 registered Republicans.

That would seem to mean the party was not sufficiently organized and effective to bring the vote out for McNerney. Interestingly enough, Sen. Barbara Boxer, a Dem, won the county by 51%.

I don't know what to conclude from all that. I am putting up this thread not to state what I know, but more that I don't really know to what extent how organized and effective the Dem party is in SJ County. I hope some people can comment, and then offer suggestions for building the opposition to Pombo through the Dem Party there.

For example, I have received emails from people in the East Bay who want to head over to SJ and help the party organize, with voter registrations and tabling, etc. Is there an infrastructure that would welcome these volunteers and be able to put them to good use?


Blogger Matt said...

Let me suggest we redirect the thrust of this inquiry somewhat. There seems to be a systematic equivocation between talking about San Joaquin County as a whole and talking about the relevant part of the counties that lies within CD-11. Certainly, some of my previous comments were about the part of the county inside CD-11, not the county taken as a whole.

This is important because so many (over 1/3) of the Democrats that live in SJC do not live in CD-11. Also, the part of the county that is not in CD-11 is 2-1 Democrat. The Democrats added this part to CD-18 because they were worried that the Gary Condit scandal would put the district in play. The addition of these Democrats made CD-18 more comfortably Democratic. Of course the flip side is that it also made CD-11 much less Democratic than it would be if the district included these portions of CD-18.

Now a Dem elected to Congress in CD-18 might abstractly seem like a likely ally of the anti-Pombo groups, but Cardoza is very closely tied to Pombo because they both feed from the same corporate trough. They've even held joint fundraisers.

Furthermore, if you look at Barbara Matthews (Assembly District 17) or Mike Machado (State Senate District 5) you see that the voter registration numbers in San Joaquin County the part of their districts are overwhelmingly Democratic.

Matthews's district had 42,400 registered Dems and 32,750 registered Republicans in 2004 and in they went roughly 31,450 for Kerry and 21,350 for Bush.

In 2004, Machado's district had roughly 89,000 registered Dems and 79,000 registered Republicans (that is 15,000 more Dems and 15,000 fewer Republicans than CD-11). That part of the district went 69,300 for Kerry and 61,600 for Bush.

11:48 AM, December 03, 2005  
Blogger VPO said...

I think a key factor in winning this race will be how effective and organized the San Joaquin Democrats are. The county is split due to the 18th District thrusting up into central Stockton, but winning the 11th District race should still be one of the top priorities of the SJ Dems.

According to the San Joaquin Democratic Party website, there are 9 clubs. Three of them sit entirely within the 11th District: Tracy, Lodi, and Manteca. Another is DOGS -- Democrats of Greater Stockton, and "Greater Stockton" certainly includes the parts in the 11th District. The other clubs are more general, countywide, like Latina Democratic Club and Democratic Woman’s Club, and they also should have a strong interest in the 11th District race.

Now, it is one thing to start a club, which is laudable enough, but it is another thing to make it organized, effective and influential. That takes structure and money and dedicated staff or volunteers.

My question is how organized and effective the Dems of SJ County are? What kind of efforts will they be making in this election? Will they be able to raise money, field volunteers, do tabling, walk precincts, register voters, hold public meetings, etc., etc., such that their efforts can turn the election?

Also, there are a good number of volunteers revving their engines to drive over the Altamont Pass and help out. Is there an infrastructure that would know how to best put these volunteers to work?

My questions are somewhat rhetorical and I know I will have to find out for myself with some leg work over the next couple of months. But I am putting this out here now because of what I said earlier -- I see a critical need for the SJ Dems to be energized, motivated, organized and ready for the fight to beat Pombo.

I realize that a strong candidate can him or herself be a powerful organizing influence. With a relatively weak Democratic Party machine in SJ County, the candidate will need to be especially good at rallying the ground troops.

Or conversely, Pombo needs to be so distasteful and disgusting that the ground troops rally to ABP -- anyone but Pombo. In this respect, Pombo is certainly doing the Dems a big favor by being so extreme and arrogant lately, with him using his power to bully outrageous legislation through Congress.

But even with the most charismatic candidate or the most god-awful incumbent, there still needs to be structure on the ground that people can work through to do the actual legwork necessary to see their candidate win.

McNerney found he had to build this structure in the last election, and some of that has carried over to this election. That is what Matt is talking about, I believe, when he says, "a significant portion of the clubs were formed very recently".

10:18 PM, December 03, 2005  
Anonymous Jesse said...

VPO, I don't want to be misunderstood. I'm not saying that the San Joaquin County Democratic party has a strong Chicago-style infrastructure. My point is that there are many fine Democrats involved in area politics as candidates and supporters (and some have been in the trenches for years and years), and I don't think it is fair to them to call them weak. Anyone who has been involved in politics for a lenthy period of time knows that people come and go. There is an ebb and flow.

I agree with what you have said about the importance of having a strong candidate. That is the main reason I decided to return to the political world. It was not an easy decision for me personally. The political world in San Joaquin County can get "real confrontational" and some would say "dirty." But this only happens when a particular contest involves an important political prize and viewed by both sides as a close contest. What you saw in the 2004 McNerney/Pombo contest was kid's play. I don't remember seeing even one hit-piece. I could be wrong because like I have said I didn't see it as a serious contest. If you want to know what a real serious contest is like in this area then talk to people deeply involved in the Machado/Podesto state senatorial contest in 2004.

MATT, I'm not sure I really understand your point. The voters of certain areas of San Joaquin County leaning Democratic are important in this election too. I say that because it is really one community. In live in the 11th District but I have many friends and some relatives living in that District. In fact, the area that I was raised in is part of that District.

7:36 AM, December 04, 2005  
Anonymous Jesse said...

MATT, Oh, I wanted to make it clear that I really don't know Tracy politics. I have a pretty good understanding of Stockton and Lodi but I don't really understand the intricacies of the Tracy area.

9:43 AM, December 04, 2005  
Anonymous Jesse said...

I want to share a concrete example of what I am saying about how the Democratic Party works in San Joaquin County. Keep in mind that we are in the primary election stages, and this is but one example of how politics works in this County. It is not intended to be exhaustive but simply a glimpse.

Yesterday, I attended an event put on by the Cathleen Galgiani for 17th Assembly District people. It is her first run for the office as Barbara Matthews is facing term limits. I do not live in her District, but parts of her District are in the 11th Congressional District which I believe Steve Filson can win in November.

Now, I have a political activist friend who knows I am reentering the political world. My friend is a Stockton resident who lives in the Galgiani Assembly District but not in the our Congressional District. My friend knows my history and knows I know voters in the Galgiani District. I know my friend's history and I know he knows voters in our Congressional District.

So my friend informs me of the event and I go. While at the event I meet other persons I used to know much better in years past. And I meet new people. The attendees are there for various reasons, but presumably to support Cathleen Galgiani. Now, I meet people from the various areas of San Joaquin County and also outside the County. I meet and am informed of candidates in other races and about people considering being candidates in other races.

Now, at the end of it all, I am thinking I want to support Cathleen Galgiani. I have learned of the candidacies of persons in other races which I had not heard before. Other people have heard how I support Steve Filson.

We are all part of the Democratic infrastructure. Each person plays a role in it and has been in the trenches for varying lengths of time, and at election time will work to elect one or more candidates.

This is a quick snapshot of a small part of the complicated process when you live in an area that has been carved into multiple political Districts. It is not simply networking, but also there is no machine button which you simply can press.

There is a San Joaquin County Democratic Central Committe and various organizations, and they all play a role in it too.

7:43 AM, December 05, 2005  
Blogger Matt said...


I think we understand the concept of the grassroots differently. That may be part of our disagreement.

You speak about volunteer work done on behalf of local electoral campaigns as if that is all that the grassroots is. And so you seem to frame the debate in terms of grassroots people and exclude grassroots institutions.

My point is that there are not very many strong grassroots organizations independent of political campaigns. This means that a new campaign (like McNerney's) needs to build the electoral machinery from scratch. Given this reality and the fact that McNerney only had six months and $160,000 to work with, it's not surprise that McNerney had a lackluster performance in SJC in 2004.

The obvious unsympathetic response to McNerney is that Barbara Matthews and the other have obviously built their own machine in SJC, so it's possible to win in there. The response would then imply that McNerney's failure to build such a machinery is his own failure, and has nothing to do with the Dem Party in SJC.

The problem with this response is that it ignores the profoundly different circumstances McNerney found himself in 2004 than a Mike Machado and Barbara Matthews found themselves in whenever they first ran.

For one, it ignores the pre-existing Democratic machines that they might have inherited. For example Galgiani is inheriting Matthew's political apparatus to some degree.

It also ignores the related fact that Dems have been winning in SJC in cherry-picked districts where Democrats outnumber Republicans. When the new Democratic challenger runs in a safe or lean Democratic district, they face many fewer fundraiser obstacles.

Also, the simple fact of having a Democrat in office provides some effective organizational nodes for Democrats besides the grassroots, which makes the grassroots efforts relatively less decisive.

So yes, there are successful Democratic campaings in SJC. But so what? In 2004 they existed only as potential, but by no means actual, sources of support to someone like McNerney. Part of the criticism I've heard about the electeds is that precisely they do not take a very active interest in supporting other Democratic candidates. This means that however big their electoral apparatus is, it stays in first gear for something like a congressional race. Since there is a dearth of strong, active clubs (admittedly this has changed quite a bit since 2004) and since the electeds are only nominally supportive, a new candidate needs to invest considerable resources in terms of time, money, and volunteer effort just to organize. If there were more strong and organized grassroots institutions then candidates would not have to do as much just to get started.

In effect, a strong set of grassroots institutions would diminish the need for you to go to campaign events to network. It would set up channels of communication outside any one campaign or (importantly) outside of the activist social circles. It would do the fundamental work like voter registration that needs to be taken care of all the time, not just when we're in campaign mode.

None of this diminishes the work you do personally. But I really think that organized grassroots groups pay dividends. And your response that some candidates are "rich" enough to function without the dividends does not obviate the fact that taking back CD-11 would be a much less daunting challenge if the grassroots institutions were in place, organized, and energized.

8:52 AM, December 05, 2005  

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