Endorsements Take Courage, Too

Climate Politics
Courage California’s 2023 “courage scores” for central San Joaquin Valley Democrats serving in Sacramento were mostly quite low: (clockwise from upper left) State Senator Anna Caballero, F (18%); Assembly Member Joaquin Arambula, B (84%); State Senator Melissa Hurtado, D (68%); and Assembly Member Esmeralda Soria, F (20%).
Courage California’s 2023 “courage scores” for central San Joaquin Valley Democrats serving in Sacramento were mostly quite low: (clockwise from upper left) State Senator Anna Caballero, F (18%); Assembly Member Joaquin Arambula, B (84%); State Senator Melissa Hurtado, D (68%); and Assembly Member Esmeralda Soria, F (20%).

When Esmeralda Soria ran unsuccessfully for Congress four years ago, the folks at Courage California, formerly Courage Campaign, heartily endorsed her as part of a slate of progressives, a California version of the famous “Squad” led to victory in 2018 by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D–N.Y.).

The only problem with the endorsement was that it ignored Soria’s voting record on the Fresno City Council. From damaging public health in south Fresno’s most heavily polluted neighborhoods by favoring unbridled industrial expansion to her support for placing “In God We Trust” above the dais at City Hall, she was a proven conservative Democrat.

Now Soria is the State Assembly Member for District 27 covering the Valley’s west side and Democratic majority precincts in parts of Fresno, Madera and Merced counties, and Courage has been evaluating her state house voting record. Better late than never, I suppose, though I predict they’ll repeat their mistake of falling for false promises and identity politics to back Annalisa Perea’s likely bid for State Senator Anna Caballero’s seat in 2026.

For its 2023 scorecard, Courage polled 100 “progressive advocacy groups,” picked 55 bills and evaluated “how well each legislator represents their district by comparing their Courage Score to how progressive their district is.” Sounds subjective, but they are thorough and have developed a metric they call a Progressive District Ranking drawn from district-specific voting data on historical statewide ballot initiatives and general election data. Non-votes are counted as no’s; show some courage, right?

And it’s not all bad news for central San Joaquin Valley residents, just mostly. While Soria’s 20% rating and Caballero’s 18% earned Republican-level “F” grades and State Senator Melissa Hurtado’s 68% got a “D,” Assembly Member Joaquin Arambula scored 84%, a solid “B.” Five of the State Senate’s eight Republicans scored higher than Caballero, and the only Assembly Democrat to score lower than Soria was Bakersfield’s Jasmeet Bains at 18%.

One good indicator of any district’s progressive leaning is voter registration. In Arambula’s district, Democrats have a 46% to 23% advantage. Soria’s is little different with a spread of 42% to 28%. Caballero enjoys a 45% to 28% difference. So why the huge gap between their progressive ratings and Arambula’s?

Courage explained Soria’s abysmal score:

“Assm. Soria was called out in the press during her 2022 campaign after seeming to break her pledges to the Green New Deal and No Fossil Fuel Money when she accepted donations from Chevron, Phillips 66, Marathon Petroleum, Exxon Mobil and Edison International. As a legislator, she has failed to hold these types of companies accountable by recording no vote on SB 253 to require annual emissions reporting for companies with more than $1 billion in revenue. 

“She was endorsed by [the] California Coalition of Law Enforcement Associations and California Correctional Peace Officers Association during her 2022 campaign, and has been a dedicated opponent of criminal justice reform in her first session. She failed to vote on AB 1034 to prohibit the use of facial recognition software in body cameras, AB 1306 to prevent individuals eligible for release from being transferred to ICE custody, and AB 958 to restore up to three personal visits per week for incarcerated individuals.

Soria also opposed AB 895 which sought to fix the Valley Air Board’s deeply flawed Emissions Reduction Credit System. The bill passed in the Senate but failed in the Assembly. She opposed two similar reform bills aimed at the State Water Resources Control Board.

Caballero’s low score came for similar failures, according to Courage:

“Of the 22 scorecard bills Sen. Caballero had the opportunity to vote on this session, she failed to take a position on more than 80% of them, including seven bills designed to improve worker power and protections.

“Sen. Caballero celebrated the passage of her climate bill, SB 306, designed to combat deadly extreme heat in her district, but failed to vote on several bills to address the negative climate impacts experienced across the state, including AB 1167 to regulate funding for the decommission and restoration of oil well sites, and SB 252 to divest state pensions from fossil fuels.”

What progressive advocacy groups around the Valley and beyond are up against is a political infrastructure founded and funded by Big Oil, Big Ag, developers and labor unions. The first three of those four oppose all forms of regulation, and labor is mostly focused on expanding its political influence within the Democratic Party rather than direct organizing of non-union workers or standing up collectively to bad bosses in either the private or public sector. Local Democrats have also been taught to believe that law enforcement endorsements are key to election victories.

This problem is not unique to the Valley, but it bites more deeply into the future prospects of kids and young adults alive here today. Like the rest of the world, this region’s ecology hangs by a thread. Rather than preparing the landscape for fire, flood and drought, it’s being further exploited by the biggest producers of carbon emissions as a source of new profits through carbon credit trading.

But the biggest scorecard for 2023 came in the form of record ocean temperatures, a faster rate of atmospheric warming and increasingly dangerous weather impacts. Current greenhouse reduction strategies are based on outdated assumptions, especially regarding the time frame in which societal disruptions will occur on a global scale as climate change morphs into climate collapse.

All by design. The power of profit and the influence of major polluters, particularly fossil fuel companies, cannot be overstated, and they’re well served by market-based responses to climate change designed to maintain the status quo. Polluters’ most useful deception is to convince politicians they have power and are in office to govern, rather than that they’ve been entrusted with responsibilities and are there to serve the public good.

Amid this election year’s deluge of candidate mailers, multimedia ads, robocalls and public appearances, another reliable indicator of progressive politics should appear: the sincerity with which climate change emerges as a candidate’s No. 1 concern—the same as society’s.


  • Kevin Hall

    Kevin Hall hosts Climate Politics on KFCF 88.1 FM every second and fourth Friday, 5 p.m.–6 p.m. He tweets as @airfrezno and @sjvalleyclimate and coordinates an informal network of climate activists at www.valleyclimate.org. Contact him at sjvalleyclimate@gmail.com for presentations and information.

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Gene Roza
Gene Roza
1 month ago

Wow.. kinda miss the central valley activities and learning Arizona’s . Have always had great admiration for Kevin Hall’s thinking on issues and consider his suggestions as positive for a progressive agenda which is needed for our future. It’s ashamed to see some elected officials succumb to the fossil fuel industry monies. They must be held accountable.

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