Passionate progressive people prevail

In the end, even $50 million couldn't sell voters on PG&E's lies.

At risk of being overly alliterative, this primary election was about the power of progressive principles pushed by passionate people, as several politicos told me last night. That was evident in the success of the progressive slate for the Democratic County Central Committee and in the defeat of Propositions 16 and 17 despite about $70 million in corporate spending.

Money used to define the debates in San Francisco and throughout California, but the dominant narratives are now being written by the coalition of tenants, environmentalists, workers, social justice advocates, and others who backed the Bay Guardian's slate of DCCC candidates, which took 18 of the 24 seats on a body that makes policy and funding decisions for the local Democratic Party.

“This time, it was the coalition that really made the difference,” DCCC winner Michael Bornstein told me last night. “Frankly, our people worked harder.”

Board of Supervisor President David Chiu agreed, telling me, “For the Central Committee, the message is people power wins.”

Despite the post-election punditry by the Chron's CW Nevius that “moderates” just didn't rise up like he had hoped, the most obvious reality is this election demonstrated the power of progressives who embrace San Francisco values – from valuing diversity and the environment to believing in economic justice – and the potential for success when we really stand up for them. One reason why even our would-be exports, Gavin Newsom and Kamala Harris, prevailed last night could be that liberal San Francisco just isn't widely viewed with the same scorn felt by Nevius and the so-called “moderates," who want to "take back" the city from progressives.

“In an environment where it was about hundreds of millions of dollars from PG&E and Meg Whitman and Chris Kelly outspending us, we showed that San Francisco is San Francisco and we support San Francisco values,” DCCC chair Aaron Peskin told me last night.

On the statewide level, the bold and expensive deceptions pushed by PG&E and Mercury Insurance were countered only by a handful of super committed activists and a broad cross-section of newspaper editorials, yet because the basically progressive message was so consistent – don't let powerful corporations fool you into giving up your rights and protections – the Proposition 16 and 17 campaigns turned into epic failures that will feed distrust of corporations.

“California voters proved once again that they can't be fooled by tens of millions of dollars in deceptive advertising by insurance companies,” Harvey Rosenfield of Consumer Watchdog said today of Prop. 17.

And that failure could feed and empower an ascendant progressive movement. The local Sierra Club's John Rizzo told me at the DCCC slate party last night that PG&E will be hurt by its overreaching: “The $50 million they spent on this is totally backfiring. Whatever environmental reputation they had has now been totally trashed.”

As it should be. The lesson from last night is that people are starting to get wise to corporate deceptions, and they're realizing that with hard work and smart coalition-building, the people can still prevail.