Election Reaction: Ami Chen Mills says progressives need to get organized

Ami Chen Mills, former candidate for Santa Cruz county supervisor
Ami Chen Mills.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Ami Chen Mills laments that progressive candidates did not fare better in elections on Nov. 8. The votes are still being tallied, but she finds it sad that Santa Cruzans “could not find it in their hearts” to elect Hector Marin, a young, progressive Latino. She also questions “the overwhelming firepower” of Santa Cruz Together and begs progressives to get better organized on the fundraising front.

I bow deeply to all candidates who ran for office locally, whether they won or lost. My own campaign (for Santa Cruz County Supervisor) was a total revelation of the nonstop intensity of running a campaign.

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Without a diverse field of candidates, we would not hear new ideas and solutions that should influence all our thinking. I see Joy Schendledecker’s run for mayor in Santa Cruz this way. And I would encourage Santa Cruzans to follow her continuing engagement with our politics. She offers an analysis of our problems and solutions that speaks to the largest crises we face (housing, climate) at their roots.

Santa Cruz voters, sadly, could not find it in their hearts to elect a young, progressive, enthusiastic Latino man, Hector Marin, to represent a district including one of the most Latinx neighborhoods in our community. This is especially upsetting given the field of otherwise lackluster candidates and reflects my sentiments, expressed recently with Lynda Marin, on the token diversity we see in local government.

The recent selection of districts by the “council majority’’ made races less democratic and less reflective of our population. Potential candidates had to wait until June to see if they could run and then scramble to raise funds and pull campaigns together. Also, the campaign window has shortened by nearly a month due to universal mail-in ballots.

The Santa Cruz County Clerk’s office finished its vote count on Tuesday and certified the results of the Nov. 8...

The overwhelming firepower of our local “super PAC,” Santa Cruz Together, which accepts no-cap donations — including, in this recent election, roughly $50,000 from the California Association of Realtors — is skewing votes conservative. SCT opposed Measure N and supported county supervisor candidate Shebreh Kalantari-Johnson, the new districts proffered by the council majority and most of our current council members. This kind of money hires slick consulting firms who do polling and research to come up with terms like “invasive” and “extreme,” and funds a multitude of ads and mailers.

Real progressives need to get organized on the fundraising front to win campaigns in the future.

There might be truth in what some local landlords and homeowners who donate to SCT have told me: Many care about tenants, affordability and the unhoused, and are willing to help in some way. They think ballot measures have been poorly written, and some say they feel badly about all the work people put into them, only to see them fail. These statements are belied by the fact that SCT has never advanced a measure to increase housing affordability. But progressives should certainly put them to the test and engage in dialogue.

I spoke to our new mayor, Fred Keeley, briefly from KSQD studios on election night, and asked him if he would try to bridge the acrimonious and weird divide in our city council between progressives and “centrists.” Keeley answered that this kind of thing was right in his wheelhouse — and that gives me some relief.

But with the apparent reelection of Renée Golder and the apparent election of Scott Newsome, Keeley might now be one of the more progressive members of the Santa Cruz City Council. At least his stature will give him weight as part of the new “council minority.”

Ami Chen Mills is a mother, author and resiliency coach and writes a newsletter on local and national politics, climate and resiliency. Her previous piece for Lookout ran on Nov. 7.

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