Inside an Outsider’s Campaign for Elected Office – Battle Lines Are Drawn

by on September 19, 2014 · 0 comments

in Civil Rights, Culture, Election, Politics, San Diego


In Part One of this series, Lori Saldaña discussed her motivations and personal considerations leading up to her run for the California Assembly in 2004.

At the end of yesterday’s installment, she’d just been told by a Los Angeles woman’s organization at the end of a fundraising presentation that they viewed her a good candidate for school board, not the statehouse.

By Lori Saldaña / Part Two of Four

They ultimately endorsed my opponent- a woman with no prior elected experience who had worked as a pollster for the state teacher’s union. This basically meant she had the support of many of the “progressive” insiders in Sacramento and, therefore, the capacity to raise lots and lots of money.

As far as they were concerned, money was the key to winning. My policy work, community ties, Presidential appointment etc. paled in comparison.

Fortunately, I was unwilling to accept these evaluations as the final say on my qualifications to run, or my ability to serve in state-level office. I kept looking for support in the district, ignoring the “third house” in Sacramento and focusing on developing a grassroots campaign.

However, this persistence upset many who thought I was hurting the chances of yet another more deserving candidate.

This was a man who had run- and lost- in the 2002 election cycle in an adjacent Assembly district. Within weeks of his loss, he moved into the 76th district, intending to run again, and spent the weeks immediately after the general election collecting endorsements and generating support for his 2004 run.

It didn’t take long for him to hear through the local Democratic Party grapevines that I was considering entering the field.

He called me one day, in between my caregiving duties. I was on a walk in the canyon near my home with my black Labrador. As my dog retrieved tennis balls I threw down the grassy slope, I listened to him explain that he had $75,000 in the bank, saved from his previous campaign.

His message was simple: the “moderate” Democrats in Sacramento were supporting him. Since I could never match his fundraising skills or endorsement lead, I really should just step aside.

A more experienced candidate might have found this information discouraging and convincing, and left the race. Instead, I was saved once again by my naivete and ignorance.

I immediately thought two things:

  1. He had LOST a close election in 2002- why should he automatically have a second bite at the apple?, and
  2. I couldn’t believe he left $75,000 in the bank!

This last observation stemmed from my work with the Community College district. I came from a world where money was awarded via competitive grants, not campaign contributions. The way an academic grant budget often works is: if you didn’t spend all the money awarded one year, you were less likely to receive the same amount in the future.

My two opponents would ultimately collectively raise and spend nearly $1 million, a sum matched by their supporters in independent expenditures.

As a Dean at Mesa College, managing a State Chancellor’s grant to fund a new program in Service Learning, I had made sure to spend every dollar of our funds. The previous year I had managed a federal Department of Labor Workforce Development grant to upgrade and build new computer labs, and had labored to spend every dime of the $1.4 million by the June 30 fiscal deadline.

Also, I had managed grassroots campaigns for non-profits with small budgets. To hear him brag about retaining $75,000, after having lost by only a few thousand votes, only strengthened my resolve to stay in the race.

I actually thought: “I could WIN a campaign with $75,000,” which at the time seemed like a good amount of money. Ironically, by the time the primary was over in March 2004, I had only managed to raise about this amount. In fact, by state campaign standards, most candidates need to raise $400,000 to $500,000 to be considered “viable.”

My two opponents would ultimately collectively raise and spend nearly $1 million, a sum matched by their supporters in independent expenditures.

So, despite the overt and covert discouragement, despite the “moderates” supporting one opponent and “labor/progressives” supporting the other: I soldiered on.

Part Three, We Walk, We Win .

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