Prior Months

The Nexus Between Local and National Politics
By Terry Leach, President, LDC

January 2007

We are very fortunate to have Professor Bruce Cain address our club on Friday evening, January 19th. If you are looking for one meeting to attend all year, I encourage you to engage in a lively discussion about the ramifications of the Democratic takeover of the House and Senate. We will also discuss the current iteration of Arnold and see what’s in store for California in the coming years.

If you are wondering, for example, how the Democrats can bring our troops home from Iraq without becoming tarred as the ‘anti-war party,’ potentially negatively impacting our chances for the 2008 presidential election, this is the event to attend.

Closer to home, we will also be discussing the importance of acting locally as a means of ‘teeing up’ statewide and national wins. Those of us who have run campaigns have observed that it is not difficult to solicit hundreds, if not thousands of volunteers to help out on a presidential and/or exciting congressional election (Jerry McNerney’s race comes to mind) while, at the same time, finding it extremely difficult to find volunteers with shared values to run for City Council, walk precincts for Supervisor and Assembly, and host or attend events for governor and lieutenant governor.

Let me tell you a story. Former GOP Congressman Bill Thomas of Bakersfield, once a very powerful force in the House, is rumored to have said, “No one runs for dogcatcher in Kern County unless I approve it.â€? Why do you think Thomas and Ralph Reed and other prominent Republicans cared about such lowly offices? Think baseball. The GOP is always thinking ahead and they plant seeds for their farm team years in advance. GOP Assemblyman Guy Houston of Dublin regularly hires aides whom he places in the community and then supports for their eventual campaigns. One former aide is now a Contra Costa County supervisor and the other is a Moraga town council member.

Democratic activists and lawmakers have shown that we still don’t get it when it comes to strategically building Democratic communities with sitting lawmakers and leading Democratic community members working together. We need everyone who is reading this piece to think about who they know who should run for local office and help to support these candidates when the time comes. We need everyone here to re-think their practice of voting, and maybe even working to elect, Republicans for local office because those Republican city council members and school board members might just become the next State Senator or Member of Congress voting against universal health care or alterative energy investment when those issues comes up for a vote.

This is a sticky issue, I understand this, having lived in Lamorinda for many years. No one wants to work against friends we’ve known for years and/or served hot lunch with in our kids’ school cafeteria. Indeed, when I was recently sent a League of Women Voters’ Voters Statement by e-mail, penned in the own words of a candidate for Orinda School Board, in which the candidate expressed her belief that creationism deserved the same respect as does the ‘theory of evolution,’ in the classroom, I was chastised for sharing this information with a small group of neighbors because the hard-working candidate is so ‘nice,’ and purportedly wouldn’t work against existing statewide standards regarding the instruction of evolution.

What if hundreds of very nice neighbors ran for local office, only to run for mid-level and then state-wide office, and we all found, for example, that the only family life education plans permitted in our children’s schools were abstinence-only-plans? Sound far-fetched? It happened to my family when we lived in Oregon in the 1990’s—one school board member at a time. What if, on a national level, these self-same nice neighbors ran for Congress and worked to privatize Social Security? We can still like one another without working to elect friends and neighbors whose values do not reflect our own.

So, please think about the nexus between local and national politics in the coming months. I would argue that all politics is local. Nancy Pelosi started in her own backyard. Similarly we need to be mining our backyard for the leaders of tomorrow.