By Michael D. Evans
At a recent Fresno City Council meeting prior to a vote on an industrial park project, District 2 City Council Member Steve Brandau admonished one of the community groups advocating for project accountability: “To Ashley Werner and the Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability, which really to me, those are poverty pimps. That organization is poverty pimps. They play on people’s fears. They come down here constantly, now, standing in the way of the very thing folks need, and our community needs, more importantly.”
Werner is an attorney with Leadership Counsel and an advocate for safe and healthy communities. She was not given an opportunity to respond. However, City Council President Esmeralda Soria apologized only to have Brandau insist in an argumentative exchange that he would not apologize.
In April 2016, Fresno County District 4 Supervisor Buddy Mendes (and Board of Supervisors chair at the time) responded angrily to a constituent speaker at a supervisor meeting: “The answer to the question is, your leftist buddies in Northern California won’t let them run the pumps. That’s why that water is so expensive. So don’t come here in front of me and lie like you’re doing right now. I cannot stand that. I will not hear that…If you’re going to come in this room and lie about that, I’m not going to let you continue to talk.”
The community advocate at whom his ire was directed, Janaki Jagannath, maintained her composure and gave Mendes a lesson in how one should appropriately handle disagreements.
Moreover, we have heard recent outbursts from Fresno Unified School Board Trustee Brooke Ashjian regarding LGBT students and Fresno City Council Member Garry Bredefeld’s race-inspired comments on NFL players kneeling during the national anthem.
I encourage you to go online and view these verbal attacks. Repeating their words here cannot begin to fully describe the intensity, determination and venom with which they are stated. Or the disdain that these speakers show for “the rest of us.”
We could just attribute such discourse to the world that we now live in because of Donald Trump’s reality-TV approach to governance. But who can escape the irony that these types of attacks are happening at the same time the #MeToo movement is awakening the country to the injustices long experienced by women. It should not go unnoticed that the direct targets of both Brandau and Mendes were women.
Yet, this is not a piece on how low our society has become. Rather, it is about how we are going to change our community into something much better.
In late January, Close the Gap, an organization that is recruiting accomplished women who are “pro-choice, pro–public school funding and support paths out of poverty” to seek elective office, visited Fresno. During a brainstorming session at Bitwise, women talked about the challenges and barriers to running for office in a male-dominated environment. Later, at a reception in north Fresno, more than 50 attendees, including many prospective candidates, gathered to test the waters for female involvement in future political endeavors.
In early February, Emerge California is hosting a training in Fresno. Emerge works to “increase the number of Democratic women leaders from diverse backgrounds in public office through recruitment, training and providing a powerful network.” Emerge envisions a society where public policy addresses the needs of all Americans and is therefore working to “change the face of power, politics, and leadership in this country.”
The statistics for women in elective office are grim¾even in California. According to Close the Gap, 31% of California’s legislators were women in 2006 but only 22% were in 2017. Over that same period, California fell from 12th nationally to 32nd in female representation in state legislatures.
We do have encouraging news to report in Fresno County. Many outstanding female candidates are seeking office this cycle.
In Congressional District 4, one of four Congressional districts that comes into Fresno County and which includes the eastern third of the county geographically, all three Democratic candidates are female: Jessica Morse, formerly an adviser to the Commander of the U.S. Pacific Command (the U.S. military headquarters for Asia and the Pacific); Regina Bateson, an assistant professor of political science; and Roza Calderon, a geoscientist, community organizer and small business owner.
Each of the three Senate districts that cross into Fresno County features female candidates: Paulina Miranda, a trained pharmacist, chemist and biologist, in Senate District 8; Anna Caballero, currently an Assembly Member, in Senate District 12; and Abigail Solis, a school board trustee in Earlimart, and Melissa Hurtado, a city council member in Sanger, in Senate District 14.
And in Assembly District 23, one of two Assembly Districts in the county, Aileen Rizo, a prominent advocate for pay equity, is running.
In addition to these high-profile races, women are encouraged to seek local positions on city councils and school boards, most of which will have a filing period in late summer for the fall election. Also, a good way to get started in politics is by serving on a special district; the challenges are less substantial in getting elected to some of those. Aside from elective office, securing an appointment to a board or a commission (available at both the municipal and county levels) is an excellent way to serve your community.
We can lament the increasing tone of our current political discourse or we can do something about it.
Wouldn’t it be nice, and rather ironic, if Brandau, Mendes and their ilk faced female opposition in their next electoral effort? That could happen. And the good news is that Brandau and Mendes both have already given their prospective opponents the campaign ad with which to challenge them¾in their own words and deeds. Mendes is up for reelection this year, and Brandau is rumored to be interested in the District 2 Board of Supervisors seat if Andreas Borgeas is successful in his Senate run (and would then be vacating his supervisorial slot).
“We need to stand up to bullies who do not do their jobs or value the people who want to remind them what their job is,” says Halima Aquino, founder of the VEEP Center for Democracy Initiatives. Civil servants should “serve and advocate justice for all.”
Women are leading our efforts to take back America. Let’s ensure that 2018 is indeed the year of the woman.