The “Emily” in the very successful Emily’s List fundraising organization is not a person but an acronym. It stands for the old political slogan Early Money Is Like Yeast, which means that a dollar given early in a campaign is worth many more dollars for the would-be candidate than one contributed at the end. Early dollars can be used to do fundraising for additional funds, and to reach out to undecided voters in time to recruit them as campaign volunteers.
So it was no big surprise to see a sizable number of envelopes with Loni Hancock’s return address in our mail at home over the last couple of weeks. What was a surprise was noticing, as I did the bi-weekly junkmail toss, that only some of them were addressed to the two registered voters who live at our house. Others were addressed, either on the envelope or on the inside letter, to people I’d never heard of. One inside addressee was “Hon. Nancy Graham, Oakland City Council.” The only Nancy I know of on the Oakland Council is Nancy Nadel. Curiouser and curiouser.
But as the Alameda County Registrar of Voters has recently demonstrated, computerized databases can get mailing lists messed up with little difficulty. Presumably Ms. Hancock’s team was unlucky enough to buy a bad list. But as I was throwing these letters away, a boldfaced underlined sentence in the middle of the first page caught my eye: I need your help to raise $250,000. A quarter of a million dollars? That sounds like serious money.
And it’s only a primary. Maybe.
The scenario is that if the ballot measure on the February ballot which is designed to keep State Sen. Don Perata from being termed out of his job goes down to defeat, then Assemblymember Hancock will be able run for his vacated senate seat. Oakland’s equally progressive ex-Assemblymember Wilma Chan will probably be her opponent in the Democratic primary.
Loni seems to want to make sure that her pockets are well and truly lined just in case. Another piece of mail from her campaign was an invitation to a pricey fundraiser at a toney Hills address. The little return envelope that came inside one of the big envelopes had boxes to be checked all the way up to “Enclosed is a contribution of $3,600.” And the small print told us that “Small contributor committees may contribute a maximum of $7,200 per election.”
Yes, serious money is being raised in our town, for sure. Well, whoever wins this race, we’ll continue to have our usual left-of-somewhere representation in Sacramento. One might wonder why it will take the better part of a million bucks from us voters and the special interest contributors to get there, however.
And what will happen if Hancock gets the chance to ascend to the other house, I started wondering? Here’s where it gets interesting. In the same basket of mail was an invitation to Kriss Worthington’s campaign kick-off party—he’s running for Hancock’s assembly seat, assuming she doesn’t need it again. Since that one didn’t have big price-tags attached, we went, hoping to check out the house.
When the hat was passed, we didn’t put anything in, but we felt a bit guilty about it. A chat with a campaign insider revealed that Kriss was also trying to raise what used to look like big bucks early in the race, though not nearly as much as Hancock wants. He said, for example, that members of most district labor unions already support Kriss, but that their leadership is reluctant to contribute actual money to someone who doesn’t already have a substantial war chest. Early Money Is Like Yeast, for sure.
We went home. We thought it over. Here’s what we’ve decided:
It’s traditional for newspapers to wait to endorse candidates until the waning days of the campaign, until polls are already predicting the winner. It’s traditional for big, well-funded newspapers to construct some sort of “editorial board” to interview candidates and to pretend to make a decision based on what they say. Uh-huh. Tell me when anyone has ever seen an editorial board bite the corporate hand that feeds it.
And as anyone who reads this paper knows, we’re not a traditional paper anyhow. Our editorials are signed, and when I say “we” in them I’m just talking about the executive editor plus the publisher, “owners” only of our ratty desks, dangerous chairs and obsolete Macs, just the people who sign the paychecks and pay the bills. So when “we” endorse a candidate for office, it doesn’t bind anyone else on the paper. The reporters are still obliged to report the news fairly and accurately. The authors of signed columns speak only for themselves, as do the opinion page writers of letters and commentaries. And obviously the cartoonist does as he pleases.
“We” have decided that Kriss Worthington, whom we’ve known for the 11 years he’s been on the Berkeley City Council, would make a very fine representative of the urban East Bay in the state assembly. We can’t imagine that anyone could do a better job. Kriss is phenomenally hard-working and very smart. Anyone who watches Berkeley City Council meetings knows that he’s the guy who follows the ball when most of his colleagues are wool-gathering.
There are three other candidates in the Democratic race now, nice guys all but no match for Kriss in either experience or skill. Two are on the Richmond City Council—we’ve met them at political events and get their press releases, and they’re fine fellows, but not really ready for prime time. The third is a Berkeley resident with whom we’ve had a nodding acquaintance for a number of years, another nice guy, one who has access to a bundle of private money, but who has no legislative experience of any kind.
There’s also a rumor that the Bates/ Aroner/Hancock apparatus (a reader once slapped our hands for calling it a machine) is desperately looking to field its own successor candidate. Dynastic politics is getting to be a bad habit in this country—if we’re not careful we could even succeed in bringing back feudalism. All too often in the 35 years I’ve been watching East Bay politics voters have been deprived of a real choice because the established Democrats have slipped in their official choice in the primary where very few voters participate. It’s time for this to end.
Worthington is a true loyal Dem, well-liked by important segments like labor, environmentalists, feminists and minorities, but he’s not the official candidate of any organization or interest group. Hancock et al. would do everyone in the district a tremendous favor by not dredging up their own candidate and contributing to a completely unnecessary race to fill another war chest and line the pockets of ever more campaign professionals. In fact, if Hancock really truly believes that she needs to raise a quarter of a million dollars to run against Wilma Chan, she might do herself a favor by opting out of the assembly race altogether.
But regardless of what Bates/Aroner/Hancock decide to do, we’ve already made our own choice, and we’re backing Kriss Worthington. If Early Money Is Like Yeast, early endorsements are the flour that must be kneaded in if the campaign is ever to rise to appropriate heights. We urge readers outside of Berkeley to get to know Kriss and what he stands for, and we think they’ll like him as much as we do.
And don’t forget about that money thing, as annoying as it is. Our insider guessed that Kriss really needs to raise $100,000 by December 31 to continue as a credible candidate. It would be great if that could be raised by a thousand $100 contributions from rank-and-file voters, and it’s possible, if everyone chips in now.
P.S. Today’s mail brought yet another Hancock solicitation letter, this one correctly addressed to me. Those guys don’t quit.