SF Democrats’ Endorsement Problems

by on August 22, 2016

Aaron Peskin gesturing in support of Cindy Wu's election to head the SFDCCC

Now that the candidates to the San Francisco Democratic County Central Committee (the DCCC) have been elected and endorsements made, it’s time to assess what it all means. And the answer is: not much.

Unlike other presidential election years, an endorsement on the November 2016 official San Francisco Democratic Party slate card is far from being a game changer. To the contrary, while a candidate’s or initiative’s ability to market their position as “Endorsed by the SF Democratic Party” still has  value, do not expect thousands of voters to take the Party slate card to the polls and follow its recommendations this year.

Here’s why.

Wiener’s Endorsement

The DCCC has a progressive majority that backed all of the supervisor candidates outside of D5 that are seen as the most progressive. It also took the position on initiatives that were backed by the supervisors on the Board deemed progressive (that’s distinct from the actual “progressive” position, as will be discussed later this week).

But in the city’s most high profile candidate’s race—Wiener v. Kim—the SF Democratic Party card will endorse Scott Wiener. The endorsement in that state legislative contest was made months ago by the California Democratic Party, not the DCCC.

Since progressives won a majority of the DCCC in June I’ve been wondering how they were going to handle the Wiener endorsement. Will his State Senate endorsement be in very small print? Will his campaign’s effort to pay to highlight the endorsement—which is the standard way the DCCC card is funded—be rebuffed, even at the risk of embarrassing the DCCC?

I don’t know what will happen but I do know that the new and/or low-informed voters most reliant on the Democratic card (“I’m new to the city. I’ll just vote on these measures as the Democratic Party says.”) will be confused by a card of progressive endorsements combined with its backing of Wiener. Bernie Sanders supporters who got involved in local politics through the Kim campaign might just throw the Democratic Party slate card in the recycle bin when they see she was not endorsed.

People distrust slate cards that they disagree with on key endorsements.  That poses a major problem for the DCCC card.

Public Advocate

The DCCC endorsement of the Public Advocate ballot measure (Prop H) will cause even more voters to ignore its slate card.

Regardless of your view of the policy rationale for creating a Public Advocate’s office, the official Controller’s cost estimate states that passage of Prop H would probably cost the city “between $2.8 million and $3.5 million annually.” I don’t see any chance that voters want to spend city tax dollars in that fashion.

There are many tax increases, bonds and revenue measures on the November ballot, but Prop H imposes a potential $3.5 million cost without a new funding source. Prop H also adds 26 new city employees. A less ambitious Public Advocate measure could potentially win but as it stands it is likely to lose big. And when moderate Democrats see that the DCCC  has endorsed Prop H, many will toss the slate card right into the recycling bin.

Who Will Fund the DCCC Slate Card?

Adding to the problems convincing voters to trust the DCCC slate card are questions of funding. Thankfully, Big Soda will not be financing the card because theDCCC  backed the soda tax (Prop V).  In contrast, the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club, which was accused of backing Big Soda to fund its November 2014 slate card opposing the soda tax, is also opposing Prop V.

The most likely big DCCC slate card funder are the backers of Prop O, the “Hunters Point Shipyard /Candlestick Point Jobs Stimulus Proposition.”  This measure creates an exemption from the office limits imposed by Prop M, which passed in 1986. Lennar and others have plenty of money to spend on passing Prop 0, and will likely be the leading financial interest behind the DCCC card.

That may not be saying much, however, as the overall list of DCCC endorsements has few measures backed by those with the resources to spend big on the DCCC card. Meanwhile, the sheer volume of initiatives and candidates prevents highlighting any measures that don’t pay big for the privilege.

Presidential elections normally elevate the status of the DCCC endorsements because they create a fiercely partisan environment which boosts down the line Democratic voting in San Francisco. But San Francisco progressives put too many measures on the November ballot,  including some that have little grassroots support but will bring in a whole lot of No money.

This combination will likely result in the DCCC endorsements proving less reflective of Election Day results than in prior presidential election cycles.

Randy Shaw is Editor of Beyond Chron.

Randy Shaw

Randy Shaw is the Editor of Beyond Chron and the Director of San Francisco’s Tenderloin Housing Clinic, which publishes Beyond Chron. Shaw is the author of four books on activism, including The Activist's Handbook: Winning Social Change in the 21st Century, and Beyond the Fields: Cesar Chavez, the UFW and the Struggle for Justice in the 21st Century. His new book is The Tenderloin: Sex, Crime and Resistance in the Heart of San Francisco

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