Oakland activists celebrate tepidly, as midterm results yield positive, mixed outcome for progressives

Tony Thurmond, candidate for State Superintendent for Public Instruction, arrives at his election watch party at Impact Hub, greeted by some children who had been standing by the door. Photo by Mickey Capper.

Tony Thurmond, candidate for State Superintendent for Public Instruction, arrives at his election watch party at Impact Hub, greeted by some children who had been standing by the door. Photo by Mickey Capper.

The results of many national and statewide races from Tuesday’s midterm election have been called, and Oakland residentswho voted mostly for Democrats—are cautiously celebratory.

Frances Read, vice chairman of the East Bay Democratic Socialists of America, said she and people in her circle view this election as a win. “We took on the millionaire class who spent a huge amount of money to defeat us, and we put up a huge fight. We had really in-depth conversations with our neighbors, and the turnout was impressive,” Read said.

Amelia Cass, a volunteer with Indivisible East Bay, a grassroots organization that advocates for progressive issues including health care, immigrant rights and tax increases for the wealthy, said she is pleased with the overall results of this election as well, but added that “This is just the beginning of what we’re trying to do—to turn this country blue.”

Cass said her organization plans to continue to support California Senator Dianne Feinstein (D), who won re-election with 54.3 percent of the vote, with challenger State Senator Kevin de León (D) behind by almost nine percentage points, according to the California Secretary of State’s website as of Wednesday morning, with 97.2 percent of precincts reporting.

Cass said they are  especially interested in Feinstein’s work on the Senate Judiciary Committee, a 21-member committee whose role is to oversee the Department of Justice, consider executive nominations and review pending legislation. “The 9th circuit is very important,” Cass said. “We don’t want to see any bad judges get confirmed.”

Cass also said that although de León lost, she thinks his choice to run against Feinstein was ultimately good for the Democratic Party. “He ran from the left, and pushed Feinstein to the left,” she said. “As a group that tries to move Congress to the left, it was helpful to encourage more forceful fighting of the GOP agenda.”

Cass added that it was strange that de León, a progressive candidate, won traditionally Republican-leaning areas of the state, while Feinstein ended up performing better in more liberal areas, including Oakland and most of the Bay Area. “I think possibly this is because Republicans treated Feinstein as a scapegoat,” Cass said. “By voting for [de León], they were casting a vote against her, rather than for him.”

California voters also cast their ballots for 53 House seats—39 of which were held by Democrats, and 14 by Republicans. As of Wednesday morning, 39 Democrat candidates have won House seats, with three more leading. Seven Republican seats have been won, with four more leading.

Cass said she was pleased to see Democrats take the House. “I think the biggest thing is, Republicans can’t try again to repeal health care,” Cass said, reflecting on what a Democrat-controlled House might mean for the country. “I mean they can try, but it’s not going to pass in the House.”

She also thinks that the flipping of the House will mean more opposition to the Trump administration’s agenda. “Republicans have been turning a blind eye to a lot of corruption in the White House,” she said. “I don’t think the Democrats are going to do the same.”

Californians also voted for a new governor. Gavin Newsom, a former San Francisco mayor, defeated Republican businessman John Cox by double digits, receiving 59.4 percent of the vote.  During his campaign, Newsom said that addressing income inequality, housing, homelessness and health care would be his major priorities as governor. In his campaign, Cox portrayed Newsom as the embodiment of the out-of-touch political elite.

One of the biggest choices on the state ballot was Proposition 10, an initiative that would have expanded the power of local governments to adopt rent control. But voters defeated the initiative, preserving the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act, which prohibits cities from mandating rent control over certain residential units, including single family homes and newly-constructed units. Just 38 percent of Alameda County residents voted in favor of Proposition 10, suggesting that repealing Costa-Hawkins wasn’t the sole fix to the housing crisis voters were looking for.

Read said that she is “extremely unhappy” that Proposition 10 was defeated. “That was another thing that was bought. Rent control is an issue that is overwhelmingly supported by voters, and the methods used to get it struck down were extremely duplicitous. This is not the end of this fight,” she said.

Terence Long, communications director with the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, an Oakland nonprofit that focuses on restorative justice for people of color, said he was also disappointed Proposition 10 didn’t pass, but that his and other organizations will be continuing to fight for affordable housing in Oakland.

“We’ve seen displaced residents losing homes and economic opportunities, and families are being torn apart,” Long said, adding that his organization doesn’t always rely on ballot measures to create change. “Grassroots organizing is really where we see change,” he continued. “Right now, we’re working with residents of Oakland Housing Authority to hold the authority accountable for over-policing and harassing of residents there. We’re also working with unsheltered people to put an end to unconstitutional sweeps of encampments.”

In a tight race, newcomer Marshall Tuck bested Bay Area native Tony Thurmond in his bid to become California’s Superintendent of Public Instruction. Thurmond received 49.3 percent of the vote to Tuck’s 50.7. But in Alameda County, Thurmond—who was endorsed by the California Democratic Party —received 64.7 percent of the vote.

“It was a mixed bag,” Long said, when asked for his thoughts on the results of this election. “We have a long way to go, but I have a lot of hope.”

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