By: Karen Menehan
Santa Cruz Indivisible (SCI) Midterm Elections Group members are determined to help elect Democrats to Congress, and cite that effort as a key battle in the effort to prevent Republicans from reversing the social progress made in the U.S. over five decades.
“It’s imperative that we turn Congress blue,” said SCI Midterm Elections Group member Larry Elkin. “It’s the only way we are going to prevent taking this country back 50 years or more.”
Electing a Democratic House, he added, will also help place Democrats in a solid position for the 2020 presidential election.
The SCI Midterm Elections Group was formed to influence elections in swing districts—those places where a thin margin decided their last congressional election—and get as many Democrats into office as possible.
Right now, members are deep into the effort to help Democrat Jon Ossoff win in Georgia on June 20.
Members have also worked locally on elections in Kansas, where Republican Ron Estes won in April, barely; and Montana, won by Republican Greg Gianforte.
These special elections are just the beginning of the SCI Midterm Elections Group’s efforts—and the group needs more people to become involved with identifying candidates, conducting research, and phone-banking for elections for governorships, senatorial offices and congressional seats in 2018 and beyond.
Group member Larry Elkin said the SCI Midterm Elections Group needs people to step up to conduct research on candidates who could benefit from support of groups and individuals outside their immediate geographic area.
“We have people taking the lead with each district, to understand who the candidates are, what the dynamics are, what the history is,” he explained. “They will continue monitoring that district up until the time we can get actively involved—and what we expect as we get closer to 2018 is there are going to be so many races, the more people we have, the better.”
Group members intend to build an efficient, functioning organization that can organize large phone banks and send people into districts, “whatever we need to do,” said Elkin. “We’re building something that’s going to be long-lasting.”
Group member Marilyn Gwynn told The Bugle that anyone wanting to volunteer with the SCI Midterm Elections Group should get on the group’s email list (contact firstname.lastname@example.org with a request to join) and come to its biweekly meetings, held 4:15 to 6:00 p.m. in the Galleria Building, 740 Front St., Ste. 165, Santa Cruz. (This month, meetings will be held June 4 and 18. Look for a note on the door containing the phone number to call in order to be let in.)
Former Congressional aide Ossoff, who has never before held office, has become the focal point of Democrats around the country because people’s hope has been captured by his popularity in a district that traditionally votes Republican, many sources have noted. Ossoff is also a filmmaker and runs a company “that investigates corrupt politicians and organized crime,” according to his campaign website.
“He was doing well in the polls, his poll numbers kept going up and up and up, and it got to the point where we thought, ‘This guy has a shot,'” said Gwynn, who spearheaded the Ossoff efforts locally.
Ossoff received 48.1 of the 50 percent of votes needed to win the seat, on April 19, and is now in a runoff against Republican Karen Handel that will be decided by voters June 20.
The Democratic National Committee; Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee; and the House Majority PAC, a super PAC, have all been pouring money and people-power into Ossoff’s campaign, according to a May 19 article in the Atlanta Journal Constitution, which also reported that an “unprecedented get-out-the vote effort … will run through the June 20 runoff.”
The race between Ossoff and Handel, the Constitution noted, “is already the costliest U.S. House contest ever with a tally of more than $30 million” and growing.
“In the four short months that Jon Ossoff has been in the race, our campaign has built an enormous and impressive operation that includes thousands of volunteers, unprecedented voter contact, and the largest field staff of any congressional campaign to date,” Ossoff campaign Senior Communications Adviser Sacha Haworth told The Bugle. “We’re fortunate to have such widespread attention, enthusiasm and support.”
Working on the Ossoff campaign—primarily through phone banking, with more than 1,000 calls placed by SCI members—has provided valuable education to the Midterm Elections Group, said Gwynn.
Members learned that too much phone banking can have a negative effect—evidenced by the fury of many Georgia voters who received up to a dozen calls a day from the original field of 16 candidates’ campaigns, she said.
Moving forward, Gwynn added, the group will concentrate on phone banking for candidates who aren’t the focus of so much national attention, along with canvassing door to door in California districts and supporting campaigns’ fundraising efforts.
“How much of an influence we actually had, it’s hard to say,” Gwynn said. “We learned for our group how we can operate going forward and that was beneficial, no question.”
Gwynn added that the best way to support Ossoff right now is to donate to his campaign.
June 20 is also the day voters in South Carolina’s Fifth Congressional District will decide between Democrat Archie Parnell and Republican Ralph Norman, a contest largely believed to be futile for Democrats in that traditionally red location.
Motivated to Contribute
SCI Midterm Elections Group members who spoke to The Bugle—Gwynn, Elkin and Linda Bottarini, all said they were galvanized into action by the shock and fear they felt upon learning that Donald J. Trump had been elected to the office of President of the United States on Nov. 8, 2016.
“I got involved because I was terrified—and I don’t do well being terrified and doing nothing,” Bottarini said. “[Volunteering with SCI] was a way for me to handle, or manage, my anxiety by putting my efforts into something that could offer change.”
For Bottarini, also a retired former Apple employee, the Mid-Term Elections Group offered what she considered the most impactful way to make the change she wants to see in the world.
“There’s so much that goes on with who your representative is and how they’re chosen, the gerrymandering, the voter suppression,” she said. “If we can control who we elect and put people in [office] who have the same values we do, then all the other stuff will sort of fall into place.”
For Elkin, who is married to Bottarini and is also retired from Apple, the 2016 presidential election also provided the motivation to step up and contribute to progressive politics.
“I didn’t participate in anything for the presidential election and was caught by surprise, as many of us were, and felt very strongly that we can’t let that happen again,” he said.
Gwynn, who works in accounting and jewelry design, said the world being created for her 26-year-old and 32-year-old daughters, who she called “the loves of my life” are a motivation for her volunteerism with SCI. She also said the smaller elections—special mid-term elections—have to be taken more seriously by Democratic voters.
“I have a little bit of anger toward the Democratic party that sometimes comes out, because they will come out when there is a president [to elect] and when it’s sexy to vote, and then the mid-terms come along and nobody votes,” she said. “The mid-terms for me is the place, because we have to flip as many seats as possible, governorships and senators and at every level.”
Karen Menehan is a journalist and editor based in Santa Cruz, California.