Editor’s note: When you know you’re making a difference: IEB’s Governance Committee member and co-lead of Indivisible CA-11 United, Kristen Law was invited by Representative Mark DeSaulnier (CA-11) to join him at the Ultimate Women’s Power Luncheon and Issues Conference on October 19, 2017 at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco. The event was hosted by Nancy Pelosi and paid for by the DCCC (not authorized by any candidate or committee). The following is Kristen’s report from the conference.
The Ultimate Women’s Power Luncheon and Issues Conference began with welcoming remarks from Representative Nancy Pelosi, acknowledging the heartbreak and devastation of the recent fires. Along with gratitude for all those who have stepped up to help, Rep. Pelosi provided weblinks for Napa relief and Sonoma relief. Rep. Pelosi also touched on questions that she often receives about communications with constituents, redistricting and voter suppression and the need to leverage the grassroots movement, and acknowledged women congressional candidates in attendance: Angie Craig (MN-2), Chrissy Houlahan (PA-6), Abby Finkenauer (IA-1), Ann Kirkpatrick (AZ-2), and Susie Lee (NV-3). Also on the subject of elections, she acknowledged the event’s “power couple,” Ann and Jerry Brown, whom she described as committed to flipping seats in California.
Panel 1: Political Updates
This panel consisted of DCCC Chair Ben Ray Lujan, DCCC Recruitment Vice Chair Rep. Katherine Clark (MA-5), and Rep. Zoe Lofgren (CA-19).
Lujan began by providing an update on the national environment. He struck an optimistic note, saying “history is on our side and we need to make history repeat itself”: after Clinton came Bush, after Bush came Obama, and after Obama came 45 – who is below 40% approval. Lujan honored the importance of grassroots work for taking down Trumpcare, and noted that the Democrats need to work directly with people and must inspire America. Republicans are under water in many red districts, so people in blue areas should adopt a precinct to flip. Lujan spoke of the need to defend against fake news and trolls.
Rep. Clark expressed deep gratitude for the Left Coast. She recognized the success of local engagement, especially citing the success of Town Halls. Like several others at the event, she focused on the Women’s March (the “You know there’s trouble when librarians are here” poster was one of her favorites because her mom was a librarian). The Women’s March, she said, has translated into an increase in women wanting to run for elected seats. As of late September, 84 women were running for office in 80 Congressional districts. When women run for office, she said, they focus on issues such as the wage gap, the struggle to care for parents and children at the same time, and the cost of education. Women’s issues are economic issues, and women candidates “stand for you and giving your family a shot at the American dream,” so supporting women candidates is supporting our values as a country.
Rep. Lofgren advised that we focus on flippable seats here in California. There were seven Republican seats where Trump lost in 2016:
- CA-10: There are currently 8 Democrats running against Rep. Jeff Denham
- CA-21: (Kern area) Trump lost by 16 points – there is one Democrat running against Rep. David Valadao
- CA-25: This is the last Republican seat in LA County
- CA-39: This is a majority minority district in Orange County and is experiencing a dramatic demographic shift
- CA-45: (Irvine) A number of strong Democrats may run against Republican Rep. Mimi Walters
- CA-48: (Laguna) Rep. Dana Rohrabacher is considered “Russia’s Congressman” and has a number of competitive Democratic challengers
- CA-49: (San Diego/Oceanside) Rep. Darrell Issa won by under 200 votes in the last election, and recent polls show him losing to a fictitious Democrat!
To this list, Rep. Lofgren added CA-50 (San Diego), where Rep. Duncan D. Hunter is under investigation for using campaign funds for such things as groceries, kid’s college tuition and shipping a rabbit by plane (you read that correctly); and CA-22 (Tulare County). Lofgren warned that we need to make sure that we are protecting incumbents. There has never been a time like now where we NEED to win: The president is doing everything in his power to depress us, but the power is in our hands.
Question topics for this panel included voter suppression. The panel replied that there are several avenues being explored, including the Democratic Redistricting Committee chaired by former Attorney General Eric Holder, and plans to launch on the ground campaigns earlier than ever before. Rep. Pelosi closed the panel, again emphasizing the power of mobilizing the grassroots and stating that the community wants to select their leaders.
Panel 2: Infrastructure and Jobs of the Future
Rep. Pelosi introduced this panel by stating that our primary goal should be “Build. Build. Build!” – We need to build infrastructure, we need to build education/human resources, and we need to build our democracy.
Rep. Anna Eshoo (CA-18) talked about the new Innovation Agenda 2.0. Ten years ago the Democrats created the first Innovation Agenda: of 22 proposals, 21 became law (all except comprehensive immigration reform). There are three pillars to the new Innovation Agenda:
- Create and Support Workforce.
- Recommit to Basic Research: government funded research leads to innovations, protects people’s health and safety and creates jobs.
- Modernize Government: Government should keep up with technology and scientific advancement, should be tech savvy, should enhance policies to protect security, and should draw on the private sector. Government must be accessible to the average person: the public should be able to access data because “knowledge is power” and we need knowledgeable citizens.
Rep. Mark DeSaulnier (CA-11) started off, as he generally does, by encouraging everyone to read Dark Money and then Democracy in Chains. He said that under Trump there have been far fewer oversight committee meetings than under Obama. Regarding infrastructure, Rep. DeSaulnier said there are trillions of dollars in backlog. Tech centers are driving young people to urban centers, creating huge challenges around providing infrastructure for so many people to get around. We need mobility and government needs to provide it, but Republicans don’t want to invest. Regarding workforce/labor, DeSaulnier (who recently held his 50th Town Hall) said he has repeatedly heard how people are suffering and heard a sense of urgency. As we in California have leapt forward in advancement, we have left too many people behind; we need to focus on bringing everyone along with us. For example: in the transportation field, as we transition to self-driving trucks we need to prepare for what to do with the current workforce of truck drivers, with employers contributing to training and retooling and helping to mitigate the cost (like CEQA in the environmental field). Rep. DeSaulnier authored the Smart City Program, a competition that Columbus OH won in 2016, gaining them $40 million from the USDOT (plus more from corporate grants); DeSaulnier hopes that the San Francisco Bay Area wins next time.
Environmentalist, mega-donor and sometime political candidate Tom Steyer spoke (not surprisingly) about the need to put investments into leveraging the grassroots. Infrastructure is investment, he said, but it isn’t enough to just build – we need to build smart infrastructure and a smart, clean United States with renewable energy, denser living spaces, open spaces, and public transportation. Infrastructure requires connectivity: the ability to connect to a rapidly changing world, including physical connection, training, and emotional connectivity. People’s feelings of disconnectedness, Steyer said, led to the Trump election. On the other hand, Steyer pointed out, we have had some big wins: GM is going electric, the tar sands pipeline was shut down, the new refinery proposal on the California coast was closed. We have the technology and the ability to build a fantastic future but we need to think about it on a human basis. Job creation has to include every community, from inner city to rural. New technology means health and justice: no one wants to be a coal miner and no one wants to live near coal mines (and the Republicans’ insistence on coal hurts the poor). Investing in schools, training and health is about social justice and the rights of Americans.
In the Q&A period, the panelists discussed the need for government to invest in community colleges, which 2.2 million students attend in California; Rep. DeSaulnier says that free, high quality community colleges are essential to our future.
Panel 3: National Security
According to Rep. Jackie Speier (CA-14), “President Trump is a National Security risk,” primarily because he won’t listen to the generals. How are we doing? Let me count the ways: He has undermined allies, insulted other leaders, and picked fights with our closest allies; he sided with Saudi Arabia against Qatar and his first foreign trip was to Saudi Arabia, the country where 15 of the 9-11 terrorists came from; he has provoked North Korea, a belligerent nuclear power, with “Fire and Fury” text messages; degraded the intelligence community, applauded the president of the Philippines; he has isolated the US from the Paris Climate Treaty, terminated the Iran deal for no apparent reason (other than its having been signed by Obama); he has allowed China to move toward being the World’s primary superpower while our allies are drifting away … Rep. Speier recommends, as the first solution, invoking the 25th Amendment; and she also recommends reading The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump.
Rep. Barbara Lee (CA-13) said flatly that Donald Trump is dangerous and is is ruining our standing in the world – but that the world is with us (though not with the administration). She focused on peace and diplomacy: we need to include more women in peace negotiations and international relations and look at international ways of achieving peace such as the United Nations. Rep. Lee urged support for HR 669, which would prevent a president from a nuclear first strike without Congressional approval, and also for repealing the AUMF, which allows commitment of money and personnel to wars without Congressional approval. (Repeal of the AUMF received bipartisan support until Speaker Ryan torpedoed it.) Rep. Lee urged support for “the three D’s”: Reinvesting in Development, Diplomacy and smart Defense.
Rep. Eric Swalwell (CA-15) chairs the Future Forum, a group of the youngest members of Congress. The Forum travels the country listening to millennials; one young Marine told Rep. Swalwell “this is not what we fought for,” and said that he fought for freedom. Swalwell stated that freedom is under attack: freedom to have clean air; freedom to work; freedom for a woman to make a choice about her health with her doctor; freedom to stay healthy without going broke. Even freedom to make a choice in voting because our own democracy is under attack – Russia chose our president. We are 22 votes short of an independent review of how Russian interference affected the election, but to get this we need to flip seats.
Former US Ambassador to Afghanistan and Lieutenant General (ret.) Karl Eikenberry talked about four big trends posing challenges: the diffusion of global policy; the diffusion of technology – we are in a time when the “weak” can coerce the “strong”; the increasing difficulty of global governance of states; and the fact that we live in a world where nations need to cooperate and the other three trends are eroding this. Ambassador Eikenberry gave a shout-out to Rep. Lee for her long efforts to try to repeal the AUMF, saying he believes that the power to declare war belongs with the Congress and that Congress needs to step up to enforce this.
The event ended with a celebratory luncheon honoring power couple Ann and Jerry Brown and featuring a performance from local musicians. The five Congressional candidates spoke about themselves and their campaigns, including these highlights:
- Chrissy Houlahan from Pennsylvania is former US Air Force Captain, a third generation military officer, former teacher, businesswoman and president of a non-profit, who never saw herself running until 45 was elected and she wanted to be able to answer with pride when her children and grandchildren asked what she did during these bad times.
- Abby Finkenauer from Iowa is in her 20’s, a first generation college student who has raised more than $300k since announcing in April – a lot of money for that district!
- Angie Craig from Minnesota is a firecracker! She lost the last election by two points and is running again. She lives with her wife and four teenage sons, worked two jobs to pay for college after watching her mom work for nearly 10 years to get her college degree. Her opponent, Jason Lewis, is considered one of the most vulnerable Republican incumbents in the country.
I was grateful and delighted to be Rep. DeSaulnier’s guest at the event and table partner at the luncheon. DeSaulnier has made an effort to work with Indivisible chapters on grassroots issues, and makes himself available to his constituents; if you live in his district and would like to be involved, you can contact me on IEB’s CA-11 Slack channel @klaw. Not on Slack? Email email@example.com. I look forward to working with you!
– Kristen Law