The Gorin Campaign, Grassroots Electoral Politics, and the Blue-Green Alliance in Sonoma CountyBy Martin J. BennettSusan Gorin's election to the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors in the 1st District is a pivotal moment for Sonoma County politics. For the first time in decades there is a progressive majority on the board including Gorin, Shirlee Zane (3rd District), and Mike McGuire (4th District).What were the main reasons for her victory--and why would Susan ultimately prevail, when polling suggested two weeks before the election that she and John Sawyer were running neck and neck with 30 percent of the voters undecided?A more extensive assessment should be possible when the final precinct data is available, but I believe my general conclusion will be confirmed by the final results: Susan's ground campaign in the Sonoma Valley and Santa Rosa was the decisive factor that enabled her to prevail
Main Reasons for VictoryFirst, Susan had a solid base of support in eastern Santa Rosa and Oakmont as a result of her many years of citizen activism, her four years on the school board and her six years on the city council. She brought an impressive record of advocacy for smart growth and transit-oriented development, good jobs, mass transit, affordable housing, protection of open space and agriculture, and water conservation to the supervisorial campaign. Her appearances at events in the Sonoma Valley, election forums, precinct walking, and media interviews demonstrated to attentive voters that she was a thoughtful, compassionate, and experienced candidate with a firm understanding of local government and key issues before the Board of Supervisors.Second, Susan has played a central role during the last decade in the building of a "blue-green" coalition of labor and environmentalists that includes the North Bay Labor Council, SEIU 1021, Living Wage Coalition, Sonoma County Conservation Action, Accountable Development Coalition, Sonoma County Bike Coalition, Housing Advocacy Group, Concerned Citizens of Santa Rosa, Friends of SMART, Sierra Club, Progressive Democrats, Leadership Institute for Ecology and the Economy, the North Bay Organizing Project and various neighborhood organizations.Third, her participation and leadership in numerous campaigns and policy initiatives that were supported by labor, environmental, and community-based organizations in Santa Rosa and the county enabled Susan to develop strong relationships with leaders and rank and file members of these organizations.Fourth, Susan has clearly "walked the walk" as an elected official, who, over many years, has worked closely with and believes she is accountable to, the labor, environmental, nonprofit, Latino, faith-based and neighborhood organizations which comprise her base. The substantial number of highly motivated volunteers in her campaign reflected her long-standing relationships with social movements and progressive advocacy organizations in the district and the county.Fifth, Susan raised sufficient funding to be competitive, despite the fact that contributions from developers and other big business interests enabled Sawyer to spend $100,000 more. Many more individuals contributed to the Gorin campaign, while Sawyer received large contributions from a relatively small number of business interests.
The Ground CampaignGorin's major campaign costs were for staff and five targeted mailers that introduced her to Sonoma Valley residents, conveyed her positions, values, and endorsements, and accurately portrayed her opponent as a conservative Democrat with long-standing ties to the most powerful development and big agricultural interests in the county.Yet I believe the final precinct tallies will indicate that the most important reason for Susan's victory was her ground operation in the Sonoma Valley/Boyes Hot Springs precincts and, to a lesser extent, Oakmont and Santa Rosa. Both Susan and her opponent were well-known in the northern part of the district in Santa Rosa, and the candidates split the vote there during the primary. Most of the voters in the southern part of the district, however, preferred a local candidate during the primary, and the run-off in the fall general election depended on which of the two candidates could prevail in the Sonoma Valley.It was Susan's ground operation that enabled her to win, particularly given that it was certain the election would be very close. On the flip side, Sawyer did not organize any substantial precinct walking or phone banks in the Sonoma Valley--and he likely had few volunteers willing to do such work.Recent academic research confirms that face-to-face contact with voters is still the best way to win votes and to turn people out to vote. Moreover, door-to-door canvassing and precinct organizing is much less costly than television and mailers. As demonstrated by the nationwide 2008 Obama campaign, and in selected battleground states like Ohio in 2012, door-to-door canvassing is most effective when experienced, paid community and grassroots organizers provide training for highly motivated volunteers who are part of a team assigned to a given neighborhood or precinct. 
Role of SCCASonoma County Conservation Action's canvass team walked the entire district early in the campaign, and SCCA mobilized 150 volunteers to participate in the campaign. A dozen SCCA canvassers returned to the Sonoma Valley during the last week of the campaign for the final push to the Get Out the Vote (GOTV). Altogether, the canvass knocked on more than 20,000 doors in the 1st Supervisorial District during the run-off.The SCCA canvass played a critical role informing environmental voters that on numerous issues concerning smart growth, environmental protection, and sustainability, Sawyer consistently came down on the side of the Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce and the largest developers and real estate interests in the county. SCCA sent its newsletter and "environmental report card" (Gorin received an A and Sawyer an F) to nearly a thousand members in the district. The Sierra Club also notified its members about the club's early endorsement of Gorin by a post card and in their newsletter.
Role of LaborLabor mounted an equally impressive ground operation . SEIU 1021 assigned a full-time staff person to mobilize their members for local elections; and SEIU 1021 members began to walk precincts in the 1st District before Labor Day and participated in a phone bank to inform all their members about the union's endorsements of Gorin and other candidates for state and local offices. For the final push and GOTV four days prior to the November 6th election, labor flooded the 1st Supervisorial District with more than 80 labor walkers, and volunteers phone banked thousands of labor union households.During the campaign labor canvassers carried walk lists identifying labor households and distributed a flyer supporting Susan. Most labor walkers and phone bank volunteers also asked voters to support Proposition 30 and to oppose Proposition 33. Without question, Susan progressive bloc govern? Can progressives articulate and implement a comprehensive agenda for sustainable and equitable growth that addresses the structural issues of growing income inequality; deepening racial segregation and discrimination against immigrants; systematic defunding of the public sector and public education; and the continued approval by local government of land use decisions that undermine smart growth and promote auto dependency, big box retail, and unaffordable low-density housing?
Martin BennetMartin Bennett teaches American history at Santa Rosa Junior College, serves on the board of Sonoma County Conservation Action, is past president of the California Federation of Teachers Local 1946, and a research and policy analyst for UNITEHERE Local 2850, representing hotel and gaming workers in the East and North Bay. He resides in the City of Sonoma and has canvassed his precinct every election cycle since 1994. Contact him at:
 A recent article in the New Yorker summarizes the academic research on this issue: <http://www.newyorker.com/talk/financial/2012/09/24/120924ta_talk_surowiecki>
 The North Bay Labor Council and most unions endorsed Susan Gorin. However, several important public safety unions endorsed John Sawyer including the Santa Rosa Firefighters Association, Sonoma County Deputy Sheriff’s Association, and the Santa Rosa Police Officers Association. The county’s two largest environmental organizations, the Sierra Club and Sonoma County Conservation Action, endorsed Susan Gorin; Sawyer received no endorsements from environmental organizations.
 James Wilkinson, Who Rules Santa Rosa and Why It Matters. Chs. 2-5 (Universe 2010).
Telephone: 707-584-2000 Fax: 707-585-1363
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