By Emily Cameron
Fresno City Council is arguably the most frustrating political arena in regional politics. Here we have a majority Democratic City Council, yet Democrats continue to help the Republicans pass terrible legislation. Organizations such as the Central Valley Progressive PAC (CVPPAC) promote the idea that with Districts 3 and 7 opening up, we have the capability to have a progressive majority. That is far from true. Even if strong progressives win in both of those districts, that still leaves us with three progressives, two Republicans and two Democrats who vote alongside Republicans. Progressives would continue to be in the minority.
If the progressives of this town are tired of the Democratic establishment force-feeding us crappy candidates across the board, we must buck the system—and yes, that includes CVPPAC. The only way to send a message that we are not tolerating this nonsense anymore is to primary Democrats who do us wrong. Otherwise, we will get more of the same.
The CVPPAC should publicly disclose that the Fresno County Democratic Central Committee (FCDCC) contributes money to its PAC, and in its advertising should mention that the chair of the FCDCC is a board member of the organization. Not everyone is aware of this information, and it is frankly rather deceptive. Several members of the FCDCC are also members of CVPPAC, and FCDCC members are explicitly forbidden from supporting non- Democratic candidates according to the FCDCC bylaws, so when the time comes to vote on candidate endorsements, there is no way in hell the CVPPAC is ever going to support a Green or an NPP over a Democrat. In this way, the CVPPAC is more or less a tool of the local Democratic Party establishment, whether or not it intends to be. We cannot count on them to be a voice for progressivism when part of the problem for Fresno’s political crisis lies within their ranks.
The CVPPAC recently ran sponsored content in the Community Alliance featuring CVPPAC member Daren Miller, a candidate for District 3 of the Fresno City Council. Miller has not been formally endorsed yet, but it is important for Community Alliance readers to understand that he was until recently an FCDCC member; Miller resigned from the committee earlier this year because he had to move to another part of town so he could run in District 3.
The CVPPAC is also weighing its options for District 7. In the June edition of the Community Alliance, Mike Rhodes wrote about their two members who are running for the same seat.
“The two progressive candidates are both close to the CVPPAC—Nelson Esparza and Genoveva Islas. Although it is too early for the CVPPAC to endorse either candidate, our analysis indicates that if one of them wins the District 7 race, there will be a liberal/progressive majority on the City Council,” Rhodes said.
Esparza is an FCDCC member and has received support from the CVPPAC in the past when he ran for the Fresno County Board of Education (BOE) in 2016. Esparza won his trustee seat last year and is already jumping ship to run for something else. His campaign Web site describes his six months on the BOE as his “tenure” and he lists his support of charter schools as one of his accomplishments. Interestingly, Fresno City Council Member Paul Caprioglio’s committee made a $2,000 donation to the Nelson Esparza for Fresno County Board of Education Trustee, District 3, 2016 PAC on May 25, 2016. Esparza created a committee so he could run for Caprioglio’s District 4 seat a few months later but then disbanded that committee.
In terms of his votes, Caprioglio may as well be a Republican. Caprioglio terms out in 2020, so we cannot expect him to vote with the people. Without the threat of expulsion, there is no incentive for Caprioglio to do the right thing. Chavez, on the other hand, is up for reelection in 2018.
If progressives can take down Chavez and sweep Districts 3 and 7, then we can have a progressive majority. Then in 2020, when Caprioglio is out, we can reclaim his seat. Hopefully, in a few years, we can outnumber conservatives 5-2. But for the time being, conservatives are in power, and more conserva-Dem politicians won’t help achieve our policy goals.
No, Democrats are not inherently progressive. For some reason, this reasonable statement from folks on the left angers many Central Valley Democrats—mostly the same ones who thought Hillary Clinton was progressive—even though their beloved Blue Dog icon Rep. Jim Costa (D–Fresno) is quick to throw the progressive label under the bus at any chance he gets. Costa’s speech at the FCDCC meeting in July was a vile reminder that the zombie corpse of conservative Democrat ideology is alive and kicking, if only just.
Among other things, Costa said progressives already occupy every Congressional seat in America that they are capable of winning. The underlying text was obvious: Costa is terrified of a progressive primary challenger in 2018, as he should be; the last midterm election nearly sent him into retirement, and if it weren’t for the presidential election boost in turnout last year, Johnny Tacherra would be in Washington right now. If somebody doesn’t take the reins from Costa, he will lose in the near future and the district will fall into Republican hands.
The same goes for Dr. Joaquin Arambula, the Assembly Member in District 31. On the issue of single-payer healthcare alone, Arambula deserves a primary challenger; at the Community Alliance’s fund-raiser in April, Arambula portrayed himself as a supporter of single-payer healthcare in California, yet on Aug. 14, Arambula confirmed he is far from it. Healthy California Campaign volunteers met with the Assembly Member to clarify his stances on the bill shelved by Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D–Paramount). When asked if he would co-sponsor the Healthy California Act, Arambula responded no. When asked if he would publicly ask Speaker Rendon to release the bill so it can go through committees, Arambula responded no. Worst of all: When asked if insurance companies should have a role in healthcare, Arambula responded yes.
In addition, Arambula’s votes on environmental legislature and his no vote on bail reform, a measure that lost by two votes, should make it clear that candidates cannot be taken at their word when special interest money lines their pockets.
Fresno County deserves better than what our politicians are delivering. If politicians want to avoid being challenged, the solution is simple: Stop being awful.
Emily Cameron is a Fresno journalist with bylines in the Fresno Bee, the Clovis Independent, Central Valley Magazine and many more. Cameron serves as an at-large Executive Committee member of the LGBT Caucus of the California Democratic Party and an Election Integrity/Voter Access issue team leader for Progressive Democrats of America in Fresno.