In Contra Costa County, young democrats zero in on local elections
on October 11, 2016
Grilled onions, bratwursts and stump speeches permeated the air at the Martinez Marina during the Contra Costa Young Democrats’ 4th Annual DemOktoberfest barbecue—a casual ticketed fundraiser aimed at preparing the group for the final push toward November.
Blue-jeaned political hopefuls, older and younger, mixed with 25 or so Young Dems sipping craft beer out of blue Solo cups at the event, held earlier this month. As the music came to a halt, the Young Dems, some of them wearing blue shirts and Wayfarers emblazoned with the organization’s catchphrase “Do you even vote, bro?” turned to face the makeshift stage.
“The last generation is getting older,” said 35-year-old Cesar Zepeda, who is one of nine candidates vying for three seats on the Richmond City Council. “We have to take control of the conversation that’s going to take us forward.”
“Do you know the average age of Concord City Council members?” asked Pablo Benavente, who is just 25 and running for Concord City Council. “It’s 65,” he said, suggesting city halls could use a transfusion of young blood.
Though some might disagree with the proposition of youth in office, the Young Democrats used Sunday as a rally for all of their election goals: registering young voters, translating complicated ballot measures and propositions into layman’s terms, and electing their two favorite women to the State Assembly—Mae Torlakson from District 14 and Cheryl Cook-Kallio of District 16.
Due to the state’s open primary and the Bay Area’s liberal bent, most of the region’s races feature dueling Democrats. Torlakson is in a tight race with fellow Democrat Tim Grayson, while Cook-Kallio is running against Catharine Baker, the Bay Area’s lone Republican incumbent. The group is “laser-focused” on unseating Baker, said Jerome Pandell, the group’s treasurer.
Lindy Lavender, 26, said registering young voters, regardless of party, is the core of her political mission. She wants to send a message to those who say millennials are disinterested in political discourse.
“I want people to look at the statistics for young people and say that we vote, that we’re engaged, that we care about what’s happening,” she said.
The group was reborn four short years ago, and its member count is “about 20 in off years and 40 in election years,” according to Jonathan Bash, the chapter president. Nevertheless, it’s garnered support from one of the Democratic Party’s largest bankrolls.
In April, the organization received a $50,000 donation from billionaire Tom Steyer, a prominent Hillary Clinton backer, which Bash said has helped them register 450 young people at local high schools and colleges. They’ve also directed another 6,500 to the state’s online registration form through targeted Facebook ads.
Victor Tiglao, 19, who also works for the Clinton campaign, said before Labor Day, going door-to-door, residents mostly wanted to discuss the general election, but now want to parse the tome of local and state ballot initiatives.
“The voter handbook is a phone book this year,” Bash said as he gestured the shape of a doorstop-sized book.
Craig Cheslog, the regional director of the Democratic Party and one of the event’s sponsors, said it’s millennials, not their parents, knocking on doors in Contra Costa County this fall.
Cheslog also said their politics are getting the word out on issues important to millennials, like transportation.
The Young Democrats are pushing support for Measure RR, which will create a bond for BART maintenance and improvements, and Measure X, which would triple funding for bike projects across Contra Costa County.
On that note, Pandell, who is also an accomplished fundraiser for the Clinton campaign, said the Contra Costa Young Dems are decidedly pro-development.
With the cost of living skyrocketing throughout the Bay Area, Pandell believes development near public transit and affordable housing are essential to keeping young people engaged. In fact, he said the younger generation of politicians are also in danger of being displaced.
“You can only get young people elected if they can afford to live here,” the 33-year-old attorney commented.
While the Young Dems organize debate parties and lampoon The Donald when opportunity strikes, local politics are the lifeblood of the group.
State Superintendent Tom Torlakson was in attendance to support his wife Mae and voice support for Propositions 51 and 55—both are aimed at increasing funding for public education.
Torlakson, who is nearing his fourth decade in California politics, was reminded of his first campaign in 1976.
“You see these idealistic young, high-energy individuals going into politics,” Torlakson said, between beats of Katy Perry’s “California Girls” thumping in the background. “That’s what’s very inspiring here.”
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