CVPPAC fundraiser in 2015. Photo by Howard Watkins.

Is Political and Ideological Purity the Road to Victory?

By Mike Rhodes

Is there any local politician you agree with on all issues? 100% of the time? How about your friends and family? Do you agree 100% of the time with them on all issues? Of course not. We all look at things a little differently.

That is why it was frustrating to read an article in last month’s Community Alliance newspaper criticizing the Central Valley Progressive PAC because local politicians don’t always vote the way we would like them to. Oliver Baines’ support for the Homeless No Camping ordinance was used as an example. The CVPPAC endorsed Baines when he first ran for the City Council in 2010, as he was the most progressive candidate in the race with a chance of winning. We did not endorse him in 2014. Sometimes politicians do things you don’t like and when they do, you call them out on it. See the CVPPAC open letter to Baines printed elsewhere in this newspaper, taking him to task on his Homeless No Camping vote.

You are not going to find a politician who is progressive on every issue and that you will agree with 100% of the time. Progressives will not win political power in this town if they demand every politician to agree with them on every issue. The CVPPAC has developed an electoral strategy based on years of experience, the mapping of local political districts and a power structure analysis that points us in the right direction.

When CVPPAC members come together and discuss endorsements, we look at more than political purity. Sometimes there are two candidates in a race that we agree with on many issues. One can articulate a progressive position on most (or all) issues, has a viable campaign and can raise the money needed to win. The other candidate might have good intentions but is not yet ready for prime time. The CVPPAC has to make tough choices on where to allocate scarce resources. The members, some of the most politically engaged progressives in the area, discuss each race and endorse a candidate based on the best information available. It takes a two-thirds vote of the membership to achieve an endorsement. All CVPPAC members are eligible to vote—not just the Executive Board.

After voting on who to endorse in each race, the CVPPAC determines how much money to contribute to each candidate. There are many factors that go into that decision, including the size of the district, the needs of the candidate and our ability to provide funding. There is never enough money, and that is why we are huge supporters of campaign finance reform. Elections should not be determined by who has the most money. They should be won based on issues and a voter’s belief that a politician can get the job done. The CVPPAC is also active in increasing voter turnout and ending the disenfranchisement of the poor and working people in the southern half of the city.

The article in last month’s newspaper would lead you to believe that the CVPPAC only endorses Democrats. That is simply not true. We have endorsed candidates who are not in the Democratic Party. In the last race for the mayor of Fresno, the CVPPAC pushed hard to get Susan Anderson (an Independent) to run. When she declined, we were left with a choice of a centrist Democrat and a conservative Republican who said the homeless were a “horrible cesspool of humanity.” Henry Perea, the Democrat, said he would establish a safe and legal place for the homeless to go 24 hours a day seven days a week.

A political purist might say the Democrat in last year’s mayoral race was not progressive enough. In fact, there were a significant number of people in the CVPPAC who took that position. In the end, Perea got the two-thirds vote needed and was endorsed by the PAC. You might see parallels between the mayoral race and the presidential race. Many people did not think Clinton was up to their standards. The debate still rages about whether to support a candidate that many on the left would define as a lesser of two evils. The aftermath of the decisions we made around that question can be seen all around us.

It was suggested in the article in last month’s Community Alliance that the CVPPAC was controlled by the Democratic Party because the Fresno County Democratic Central Committee “contributed” money to the group and because there are members in both groups. The FCDCC’s contribution to the CVPPAC was a $100 check for tickets to a fund-raiser featuring Dolores Huerta. It wasn’t a contribution or donation at all. It was a check that paid for a service—food, drink and the pleasure of spending time with the co-founder of the United Farm Workers union.

As far as CVPPAC members being on the FCDCC and in the CVPPAC, there is nothing wrong with that. There are also Green Party members, independents and probably those with other political affiliations in the CVPPAC. We are an independent progressive PAC. Each one of our 150+ (and growing) members has one vote and you need a two-thirds majority to get the group’s endorsement of a candidate. It is entirely possible for the CVPPAC to nominate and endorse someone from any political party or an independent—and the group has done that several times.

The writer challenges the wisdom of trying to elect a progressive in Fresno City Council Districts 3 and 7, suggesting that it was not enough. There was some confused criticism of candidates running in those districts in the article, a complaint about an incumbent that is not up for election in 2018 and criticism (accurate, in our opinion) about the shortcomings of Luis Chavez in District 5. With Chavez’s poor voting record (he voted for the Homeless No Camping ordinance, for the marijuana sales ban, abstained on the immigration legal defense fund and for the In God We Trust Sign at City Hall), we either need to turn him around or develop a strategy to remove him.

The road ahead should not include a circular firing squad, eliminating anyone who does not think exactly like you do. We need to celebrate our diversity, build unity and figure out a way to strengthen the progressive movement. If you agree, go to www.cvppac.org and join us.

From the Executive Board of the Central Valley Progressive PAC:

Pam Whalen, President

Loretta Kensinger, Vice President

Simone Cranston-Rhodes, Secretary

Carole Laval, Treasurer

Michael D. Evans, At Large

Howard Watkins, Immediate Past President

  • The Community Alliance is a monthly newspaper that has been published in Fresno, California, since 1996. The purpose of the newspaper is to help build a progressive movement for social and economic justice.

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