Posts Tagged ‘Chris Finnie’

Chris Finnie: Missing the Point About the Grassroots

Tuesday, July 27th, 2010

By Chris Finnie
Special to Calbuzz

Calbuzz recently highlighted a link to Talking Points Memo, headlined “Meg Whitman Copies Obama Playbook,” in which writer Christina Bellantoni argues that eMeg’s $150 million campaign for governor is effectively cloning the president’s 2008 operation.

Sorry boys, but Christina’s clueless.

Whitman may be trying to duplicate some of the tactics of Obama’s game plan – appealing to Latino voters in Spanish, targeting young professionals and spending a lot of money (none of it, notably, raised from the grassroots as Obama’s was).

But like so many other politicians before her, she is missing the essence of the matter: she doesn’t have an emotional connection to voters. And that makes all the difference

Where’s the passion?

Before Obama, the new Internet Age, from-the- ground-up campaign was pioneered by Howard Dean’s 2004 presidential race. Political pundits were agog at his online organizing and fundraising; suddenly every candidate wanted Meetup groups and web organizing tools.

But they were often disappointed with the results, because they mistook the map for the territory.

I volunteered with both the 2004 Dean campaign and the 2008 Obama campaign. In both, many of the volunteers felt passionate about the candidate and connected with the other volunteers we worked with. Both campaigns did a great job of fostering those connections. And they persist to this day.

The Obama campaign did a masterful job of using technology, not as an end in itself, but to harness and organize this grassroots fervor. When I worked phone banks in Boulder Creek, California, the communication from Chicago was always quick and seamless. And the personal acknowledgements to volunteers were frequent and effective.

California Rep. Maxine Waters, D-L.A., highlighted this point at the state Democratic convention in April. Speaking to grassroots activists at the annual “Red to Blue” fundraising dinner to support Democratic candidates in Republican strongholds in California, Waters said campaign strategy is too often all about money, specifically the money that campaign consultants make on media buys.

She said that as long as the primary way consultants make money is by buying media, candidates will be increasingly distant from voters, and office holders isolated from the people they represent.

Harkening back to the days of real town hall meetings, Waters spoke of the passion generated when candidates meet in storefronts with local volunteers who walk and phone for them – not as a staged media event, but as a central part of their campaigns.

What Whitman lacks

Meg Whitman may have as many paid staff members on her communications team as the Obama campaign fielded in all 50 states. But I doubt she’ll attract many people to sit in a neighbor’s living room and make phone calls to support her.

She will continue to burn through vast amounts of money on media buys but never achieve the grassroots support Obama was able to mobilize.

She will not have anyone like the woman in Florida who rented an office and recruited volunteers, then presented the whole thing to the Obama campaign when they finally made it to her state.

The Whitman campaign may boast of having volunteers, but they’re little more than a prop. The plain fact is that there is no space in her corporate-style marketing campaign for personal communication or authentic interactions with the candidate. Heck, she won’t even talk to the media. As Rep. Waters told us, this approach will increasingly isolate her from the people she needs to reach.

Whitman also will not gain that support because California voters simply don’t like her. Not even the Republicans, which the Field Poll numbers show clearly.

Sure, they’re willing to let her try to buy the election; the party is grateful that she’s spending her money, and not theirs. But she doesn’t have a message that grabs anybody and nearly all of what she’s proposing has been tried by Schwarzenegger and hasn’t worked.

Most importantly, she has no emotional connection to voters.

Unfortunately for us Democrats, Jerry Brown’s campaign has been nearly as lackadaisical in building grassroots support, and is just beginning to reach out to volunteers.

John Laird = Obama Playbook

As Brown begins to do this, he would be well advised to look to the effort of former Assemblyman John Laird, who’s running in the special election race for the coastal 15th state Senate district.

Laird has volunteers setting up phone banks for him on their own all over the state. Community groups that came together through Organizing for America groups are making calls, as are statewide volunteers from Democracy for America.

Groups all over the state are organizing themselves, or working as a group to support Laird’s bid, because they feel passionately about his progressive ideas and having him in the Senate to enact them.

Republican Assemblyman Sam Blakeslee may have more money, with millions from big oil and insurance companies, and a big assist from Whitman, but Laird has the sort of people-powered campaign every politician should hope for.

Chris Finnie sits on the Santa Cruz County Democratic Central Committee, serves as a delegate to the California Democratic Party, and is a member of the CDP Organizational Development Committee. She became a political activist in the Howard Dean campaign in 2004 and has since served on campaign staffs with Cegelis for Congress and McNerney for Congress. She also volunteered in the Obama campaign in 2008, and has acted as a volunteer consultant with several other campaigns. She ran for chair of the California Democratic Party in 2009 as what Calbuzz called the “bran muffin” candidate. In her spare time, Chris works as a freelance marketing copywriter.

The First Real People to Lobby DiFi on Health Care

Thursday, July 9th, 2009

barneyBy Cliff Barney
Special to Calbuzz

Five of us rolled up I-280 in a little PT Cruiser, en route to lobby Sen. Dianne Feinstein on behalf of a public option in the new health care bill.

A few days earlier, Feinstein had said on CNN she was dubious about Obama’s health plan – which includes a public option, a kind of Medicare for anyone – because it looked too expensive and the president didn’t seem to have the votes for it. Loyal Democratic activists, we were upset at the senator’s remarks, and wanted some indication that Democrats – all of them – are willing to fight for a meaningful health care bill.

feinsteinThe notion of taking our complaints to Feinstein, whom we know carries a lot of weight among centrist Democrats, was Harvey Dosik’s idea: “Call her up,” Harvey suggested. “Let’s go visit her next time she’s in town.”

Dosik is a Santa Cruz businessman with a knack for political fund-raising; last year he bundled, almost dollar by dollar, $35,000 from local sources, sending it to Obama and to three Democratic U.S. Senate candidates in close races (all of whom won). For our lobbying venture, he also recruited Chris Finnie, live-wire member of the California Democratic Central Committee and recent candidate for party chair; with our wives, Morgan English and Carolyn McCall, we set to schedule a meeting with the senator.

We didn’t get one, of course, since however loyal and active, we remain five bozos from the Santa Cruz mountains and beaches. But we did connect with Feinstein’s San Francisco office and arranged an interview with her staff.

So one recent morning, we sat in an elegant conference room on the twenty-fourth floor of One Post Street talking with Christine Epres, a local representative who described herself as part of “the eyes and ears of the Senator,” and said she was ready to listen.

To our astonishment, she told us were the first citizen group that had visited the office to talk about the health bill.

We began to make our case. Chris Finnie fired an opening salvo by sliding across the table a stack of 156 sheets bearing the names of more than 42,000 Feinstein constituents who supported a public option in the health plan. They had been collected by Democracy for America, the organization founded by Howard Dean to promote his 50-state strategy for grassroots democracy.

I cited Wall Street Journal/NBC and New York Times/CBS polls that showed more than 70 percent of citizens supporting a public option in the health bill. Harvey zeroed in on the cost of profit to health care purchasers – it is “overhead between me and my doctor,” he said. Morgan urged Estes to relay the strong message that private insurance was not doing the job. Carolyn called Feinstein’s vote for or against the public option as important as her vote to support the Iraq war, a vote Feinstein has since said she regrets. The implication was that we hoped the senator didn’t blow it this time, too.

Estes acknowledged that the senator had not yet announced a position on the Obama health plan. In fact, her only public statement on the public option (or what seems to be a public option, though it’s hard to tell from the text) had been a masterpiece of balance; she supported, she said “moving toward either a non-profit model of medical insurance or to one where premium costs can be controlled, either through competition in a public or cooperative model or through a regulated authority.”

“We want her to take a position,” Harvey told Estes, adding that we feared the Senate would water down the public option into locally based insurance cooperatives that would not be able to bargain powerfully because they would be too small.

The meeting lasted at least an hour; Estes took notes and was responsive to our point of view. In the end, we asked her what we could do that had the best chance of reaching the Senator’s ear.

“You know,” she said, “the best thing would be to send us stories about the difficulties people have with private insurance.”

Sometimes we don’t hear what is said to us the first time, or even the first few times. Earlier, we’d been dismayed when the Obamista at Organization for America, the president’s national grassroots operation, had advised rounding up individual tales of woe about the inefficiencies and even cruelties of private insurance, the better to win the hearts of Republicans and sway doubtful Democrats. It didn’t seem like a great strategy, although for weeks the group had been posting examples at http://stories.barackobama.com/healthcare.

Now we were getting the same advice from a completely different quarter. Perhaps it’s time to listen. Sen. Feinstein is famously fond of real-life anecdotes that illustrate a political position. So we, the first citizen group in the Bay Area to lobby her on public option, suggest we give her what she asks for.

Carolyn had a scary story of her own, and immediately sent it, along with nearly a thousand other stories from the same zip code in OFA’s database, to:

Christine Epres
Office of U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein
One Post Street
San Francisco CA 94104
415-393-0710 (fax)

Perhaps these and others can express people’s needs in a way that resonates in Congress.

Uberhead: Party Hearty, Donkeys!

Saturday, April 25th, 2009


Gets applause when he notes that back in the ’70s, California spent 3% of its general fund on prisons and 17% on schools but today it’s even . . .says CA has to invest in kids . . .

More Jerry: Extols his own record on clean energy . . . says they made fun of him as Moonbeam but 30 years later this is the national paradigm . . . We stand on the shoulders of those who’ve gone before . . . (Does this mean Jerry’s standing on his own shoulders? How’s that work? A yoga thing?) . . . He has no text or talking points, so he makes it up as he goes along . . .

Jerry Brown being introduced . . . Bruce Springsteen’s “We All Have a Dream” . . . difficult at conventions, he says, to speak the “truth to power” . . . not engaged in the campaign process yet . . . decries that White House authorized torture . . . Thank God our president has brought out into the full light of day the horror of torture under George Bush . . . talks about what he’s done as attorney general . . . OMG he’s leading a teach-in on the collapse of the banking system . . . casting himself as the populist (as opposed to the latte-sipping Newsom) . . . tough on white-collar criminals who exploit blue-collar workers in the underground economy . . .

Don’t know why, but the speaking order has been shuffled and Jerry Brown has yet to make it to the podium. Boxer delays her press avail so’s not to step on Jerry . . .

More Boxer: To the surprise of no one, she formally announces she’s running for re-election next year. Take that, Carly Fiorina . . . As a postscript, Babs announces a new line of Boxer merchandise, including bibs for babies and scarves for dogs (Barkers for Boxer) . . .The speech is better than Dianne Feinstein’s (who must be helping Tony V solve the LA budget troubles) . . .

Boxer demonstration to the tune of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” . . . lots of bass beat . . . Boxer thanks incoming CDP Chairman John Burton for teaching her to be polite, diplomatic and reserved . . . Biggest applause so far in praising Barack Obama: “Our pro-choice president has reversed the international gag rule that stopped family planning dollars from going overseas.” . . .

No media avail. Says Newsom Guru Garry South: “Our speech speaks for itself.” . . .

Besides his shots at Brown, Newsom also directly took on his biggest leftover political liability: the “whether they like it or not” gay marriage clip used so effectively by supporters of Prop. 8 last fall: He said he enjoyed being introduced by outgoing party chair Art Torres “a whole lot more than the introduction I got in a few of those TV ads last fall. Well, whether they like it or not – my name’s Gavin Newsom, and I’m here to get things started.”

More Newsom: So far, his speech is better than LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s . . . (Here’s the opening shot at Jerry Brown) Will we offer the voters of California a stroll down memory lane, or a sprint into the future? . . . Will we choose the past — or will be embrace the future? . . . We’re not a state of memories, we’re a state of dreams. . . . We are not content to relive history. We are going to keep making it. . . .

Flack Peter Ragone hands out an actual speech text for SF Mayor Gavin Newsom . . . big cheers with Coldplay’s “Viva la Vida” playing . . . Newsom: This state is ready for a new direction . . . We need to stop talking about universal health care and start providing it in this state . . . the old ways of doing business just don’t cut it in this tough new world . . . Gives rosy description of health care and schools in San Francisco, but we’re wondering will it all hold up to scrutiny in the heat of the campaign . . .

Treasurer Bill Lockyer has taken the podium and turned the decibel level down considerably, using a buttery late-night FM voice to deliver a Top 10 list of movie remakes, spinning off various disasters that have struck the economy in the last year; nice premise but the execution is too clever by half. Best joke: mug shot of Bernie Madoff used in remake of Spielberg film: “Swindler’s List” . . .

Bob Mulholland, political director for the state party, drops by the skybox to ask: “In five years, what will be around – the Chronicle or Calbuzz?” Ace Chron writer Carla Marinucci blanches…

John Garamendi spontaneous floor demonstration to the tune of “We Are Family” gets tepid response . . . For some mysterious reason, Garamendi is yelling really, really loudly and apparently believes he’s speaking to the 1968 convention in Chicago. Modulate, man . . . something in his vision about “algae and waste products” and methane collectors . . . still yelling . . . quoting FDR now (twice) . . .

Chris Finnie, the Boulder Creek Dem activist who is challenging Lord John Burton for party chair, tells us people have come up to her seeking so many flyers she’s been almost wiped out of her cache . . .

Dr. Hackenflack’s crack political team is settled into the Calbuzz Sky Box at the California Democratic Party convention, not listening to Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, who is warm-up speaker for Gov Lite John Garamendi . . .

Burton Takes a Duck on Special Election Props

Thursday, April 23rd, 2009

For a guy known as a cut-to-the-bone straight talker, John Burton sounded awfully bashful when we asked him about the May 19 special election.

Burton, expected to win slam-dunk election as the new chair of the California Democratic Party at its convention this weekend in Sacramento, dodged and demurred when Calbuzz asked where he stands on the half-dozen contentious initiatives on next month’s ballot.

Rather than declaring his views, Burton resorted to a famous line delivered by Peter Sellers, in the 1959 British flick “I’m All Right, Jack,” in which the comic actor plays a trade unionist suspected of being a communist:

“My politics are a matter between my conscience and the ballot box,” said Burton, channeling Sellers.

Burton being Burton, there are any number of possible explanations for his reticence about the May 19 Einstein Election, in which the governor and Democratic legislative leaders have foisted a batch of complicated budget issues before voters:

  1. On the eve of the election for party chair, he didn’t want to get between elected officials, who mostly support the props, and activists, many of whom don’t.
  2. He wanted to be respectful of the convention process, in which delegates are expected to take up resolutions about the props.
  3. Like Jerry Brown (up to a few days ago), he hasn’t read them yet.
  4. He was just being a prick.

In any case, pressed on the question of whether his lifelong bleeding heart liberalism would allow him to back some of the permanent budget cuts that would result if Prop. 1A is passed, Mr. Almost Chairman responded with a classic Burtonism:

“I think when it’s all over, the ones getting fucked will be the poor people.”

The 76-year old seabiscuit — a former state senate leader, assemblyman and congressman — was slightly more forthcoming when we asked him why, exactly, he wanted to be party chairman:

“The power and the glory,” he snarled. (Burton omitted any mention of the money, although the $133,000 salary for party chair matches that of his old job as senate president pro tem).

While his only opponent, party volunteer Chris Finnie, wants to make big changes in the mission and operations of the party, Burton was very clear that his top priorities would be protecting and expanding the Democrats’ hold over elected offices in California.

“We have a very important election next year,” he said. “We have a need for a Democratic governor, we got reapportionment, we have to re-elect Barbara (Boxer), and change the two-thirds vote” needed to pass a budget.

Over the past few months, Burton has been attacked by some netroots Democrats for his throwback, ward-heeler style, and accused of not being web savvy enough to lead the party in the 21st century.

“I got a Facebook, I got that shit,” he told Calbuzz, adding that he draws the line at tweeting on Twitter.

“That’s the way you’ve got to communicate now, and we’re going to be very current and techie in getting messages out quickly,” he added. “But am I going to have a computer attached to my rear end? No.”

The “vote” for party chair will take place Saturday.