In 1992, Bill Clinton ran a terrific campaign in the San Joaquin Valley. The campaign had a pleasant, hard-working Valley fieldman, abundant campaign materials arrived in headquarters on time, he had active campaign chairs in all the counties, and a dynamite T-shirt with the logo: "Adelante con Clinton." It was one of our favorite memorabilia of that political year.
This year his wife may well repeat that success, but the campaign will not find some who once proudly wore the Adelante T-shirt ready to display it again.
It seemed back there a quarter of a century ago that the Valley might still redeem itself, by which we mean haul itself out of the clutches of any old moneybags who spread a few dollars around, offered the fabled "jobs, jobs, jobs" in return for filling up pasture with housing tracts, nut orchards and vineyards. The intervening years proved that was nothing but romantic dreaming.
In fact, one would have "to be of a certain age" to even have that dream. Specifically, one would have had to felt sympathy for the migrant farmworkers that once teamed through fields and orchards at harvest time, picking everything from peaches to cotton. And from that sympathy -- an emotion officially forbidden -- I mean if one were of a deviant, seditious nature, even an Anglo of such a nature might support the migrant farmworkers' efforts to get a better deal. And since many kids from town also worked in the harvests up until the mid-1960's at least -- they knew what farm labor was and if they were honest, hated it, and forgot all about it as soon as possible. If they were the least bit reflective instead of entirely dominated by the ethos of labor exploitation that is the essence of California agribusiness, even if only secretly, they were sympathetic and supportive of the cause of farm labor. Most, however, contented themselves with bragging about their strength and griping about the low pay and mean bosses.
It was the genius of the United Farm Workers to turn a background in farm labor into a necessity for any Hispanic politician while for most others it is the stain of a despised poverty and oppression. Yet that genius, which used the principle of race as its primary organizing tool, had a destructive side and in the tension the resulted between race and class, race triumphed to the point that it is said quietly by growing numbers of people that farm labor won't have a chance until the UFW disappears.
Even back in the first Clinton's invasion of the Valley, Cesar Chavez, labor organizer and La Raza icon, had been replaced in the awareness of a younger generation of Hispanics by (Julio) Cesar Chavez (107-6-2), one of the world's greatest prizefighters. The UFW was in the midst of a losing streak that extending through 16 years of Republican governors (1982-1998), twisting and turning as it had since its inception in 1966 on the horns of the dilemma of Mexican-Americans v. Mexican undocumented workers. The Filipino grape workers, who started the whole drive to defend citizen workers against the influx of undocumented workers occasioned by the termination of the Bracero Program in 1965, had been ignored and forgotten by the union. Cesar died a year later, in 1993, in Yuma AZ, after two days of testimony in a trial between the UFW and Bruce Church, Inc., a Salinas lettuce company that had sued the union for an illegal secondary boycott. The union was fined $3 million six week after Chavez died.
Chavez was less well remembered in Yuma for being born there than for the UFW's infamous "Yuma Wet Line," in 1974, when armed union members stood between the border and the lettuce fields of Yuma to prevent Mexicans from crossing to work there.
Fast-forwarding to "the present," if March 2016 is not a period of some horrible historical undertow caused by global warming and American belief that it makes rather than experiences history, Hispanic icon Dolores Huerta, cofounder of the UFW, is solidly behind Hillary Clinton for president. She spoke to Democracy Now! as if Bernie single-handedly defeated the immigration bill of 2007. Curiously from any sort of farm-labor standpoint, she was critical of Sanders' opposition to guest-worker programs.
The guest-worker program from Mexico was called the Bracero Program. These were short-term contracts for workers housed in camps with restricted access in conditions supposedly regulated by a number of different agencies. When the agencies didn't function, worker conditions quickly deteriorated and those camps belched out dirty, hungry, ragged and dispirited men just hoping they could escape Hell alive.
Bernie was against the guest-worker program. In three recent immigration bills, Huerta has supported guest-worker programs, yet in 1962 she lobbied for repeal of the Bracero Program.
Today, "La Causa" is an iconic forgery of justice, nothing but a fund-raising mechanism for the UFW, not a union and evidently a movement for the enrichment of members of the Chavez and Huerta families.
The proof of the complete failure of the UFW is in the fields where a workforce dominated by undocumented workers controlled by traffickers and contractors live under a system of debt servitude.
We could not be more unimpressed that one of La Icon Huerta's many children is running for Congress in Bakersfield. We remember how the lad was able to escape indictment for swindling during the building boom in Fresno.
The media, with its usual fake surprise, is noticing that there is a certain authoritarian element seeping into the presidential campaigns this year. Trump is the authoritarian icon du jour. But, at least to the San Joaquin Valley political sensibility, the Clinton-Huerta combination links two other highly authoritarian institutions: the Democratic Party and the UFW, both iconic poster brats for the failure of top-down leadership, except, of course, for the ability to shake down donors and con the public.
Tenemos Familias: Migrant Workers For Bernie, Who Didn't Keep Silent
Eight years ago, Bernie Sanders begged Ted Kennedy, then head of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, to let himtravel to Immokalee Florida, where migrant farmworkers were picking tomatoes under slavery-like conditions - backbreaking work, starvation wages, inhuman housing and sexual abuse. At a press conference there, Sanders cited "the attacks on human rights and human dignity" he saw and proclaimed, “The American consumer does not want the tomatoes they eat to be picked by workers who are grossly mistreated...No worker in America should be treated the way tomato pickers in Immokalee are being treated." Sanders also invited members of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) to testify before the Senate committee. His advocacy and the workers' ongoing grassroots campaign resulted in drastically improved conditions, including a wage raise workers had been seeking, a code of conduct, and some basic benefits.
The struggle for decent wages and conditions by Immokalee farmworkers is part of an ongoing national Fair Food Program, launched in 2001 with a successful Taco Bell boycott and resulting in the first Fair Food agreement. Its most recent effort is a newly announced boycott of Wendy’s, which has refused to join the Fair Food Program ensuring basic workers' rights that other fast-food giants, including McDonald’s and Burger King, have signed. At a protest last weekend in Palm Beach, home to Wendy's billionairechairman, Coalition of Immokalee Workers organizer Santiago Perez argued, “The people in this town saw for the first time the faces of people who pick their food...Their reality is tied to our reality."
It is that reality, many Immokalee farmworkers feel, that Bernie Sanders alone recognized, respected and acted on when he visited them eight years ago. Paying it forward, they took part in a moving, Spanish-speaking mini-documentary in support of Sanders, whose campaign released it this week in time for Tuesday's vital Florida primary. The video focuses on the experiences of single mother of three and and Mexican immigrant Udelia Chautla, who echoes Perez' argument that, "(Other people) don’t understand what we have to live through.” Sanders, she adds, does. "Bernie Sanders took interest in the lives of the workers and wanted to hear their struggles,” she says in translation. “Politicians never came to Immokalee. He didn’t keep silent about what he witnessed here."
Pro-Clinton Latino Leaders Slam Sanders
As Nevada vote approaches, an old immigration fight takes center stage.
With just two days left before the Nevada Democratic caucuses, high-profile Latino leaders are stepping up their support of Hillary Clinton—and taking swings at Bernie Sanders.
On a call with reporters Thursday organized by the Clinton campaign, Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro, and civil rights organizer Dolores Huerta slammed Sanders' record on immigration, particularly his vote against the failed 2007 immigration reform bill.
"He really set us back, you might say, a decade by not supporting us on the immigration bill in 2007," said Huerta, a who led the United Farm Workers alongside Cesar Chavez in the 1960s. "His reputation as being a super liberal, many people followed his guide on that. That was just a devastating blow for all of us who were fighting for immigration reform and for immigrants' rights."
Gutierrez stressed the 2007 vote as well as the fact that Sanders appeared on the television show hosted by Lou Dobbs—a prominent anti-immigration hardliner. "In 2007, when there was a way forward…he stood with the Republicans and went on Lou Dobbs' program," said Gutierrez.
Sanders was one of several liberal senators who opposed the bill. Some labor unions opposed it, as well. At the time, Sanders described the bill as a threat to wages for American workers. More recently, he has justified his opposition to it by citing the bill's guest worker provisions, which have been described as exploitative. Sanders has repeatedly pointed to a Southern Poverty Law Center report that said the working conditions in those programs would be similar to slavery.
That explanation hasn't satisfied Clinton's supporters. "He was absent from most of the critical immigration debates," said Gutierrez. "And unfortunately, when he did show up, his record is pretty troubling."
When reporters asked about Clinton's record—and specifically about her recent support for sending immigrant children who fled violence in Central America back to their home countries—Castro repeated his belief that Clinton would be most likely to actually move forward on immigration reform if elected president. Sandersbrought up this issue during the last Democratic debate and argued that the child migrants should be allowed to stay in the United States.
Recent polls show Sanders and Clinton running neck and neck in Nevada, and support from Latino voters could prove decisive. In 2008, Latinos made up 15 percent of Democratic caucus-goers in Nevada. Tuesday's call also included Cristobal Alex, who runs the Latino Victory Fund, a super-PAC. Alex announced his group's endorsement of Clinton. The super-PAC is the political arm of the Latino Victory Project, a nonpartisan group dedicated to electing Latino officials and increasing Latino voter turnout.
Bernie or Hillary? Cornel West & Dolores Huerta Debate After Sanders' Upset Win in Michigan
UFW-linked groups cleared
SACRAMENTO -- A state investigation into charities linked to the United Farm Workers union concluded no laws were broken, Attorney General Bill Lockyer announced Tuesday.
But several of the deals looked suspicious, Lockyer said in a release, and showed the charities need to improve procedures to avoid the appearance of impropriety.
Lockyer's investigators described one property sale involving the son of UFW co-founder Dolores Huerta as "troublesome."
The charities hailed Lockyer's announcement as a "complete vindication" of activities targeted byLos Angeles Timesarticles published in January 2006.
A spokesman said the organizations will nevertheless heed Lockyer's warning to reform practices.
"We've already taken those recommendations to heart," said Marc Grossman. Grossman normally serves as a spokesman for the union, but he said Tuesday he was speaking for the farmworker movement, which he defined as the union-related charities rather than the union itself.
The Timesarticles contained allegations that some of the charities may have raised money under false pretenses. Others may have used charitable contributions to buy services at inflated prices from the union and some may have engaged in sweetheart real estate deals that benefitted two of Huerta's children financially.
Grossman noted some of the same cases were cited in a series of articles published by The Californiantwo years earlier.
"While we concluded that none of the questioned transactions violated the law, the appearance of impropriety existed," Lockyer's announcement said.
"In the future, when dealing with affiliate entities or individuals, UFW charities should take greater care to avoid conduct that, while it may not be unlawful, looks suspicious."
In one case, the National Farm Workers Service Center sold undeveloped property in Fresno County for $1.8 million to a firm in which Emilio Huerta was a partner. Huerta is the son of the union co-founder and had previously served as the center's secretary and general counsel.
After a complicated series of transactions, Huerta's company then sold the property to another developer for $2.9 million, a $1.1 million profit.
Emilio Huerta was later reappointed as the center's secretary.
Lockyer's announcement said his office "found the transaction troubling, but concluded there was no basis to find the Center's directors breached their fiduciary duty in selling the property" to Emilio Huerta's firm.
Los Angeles Times
Emilio Huerta, son of labor icon, jumps into Central Valley congressional race
Bakersfield lawyer Emilio Huerta, son of labor icon Dolores Huerta, is running for Congress against the state's most vulnerable Republicans and brings valuable name recognition to a district that has frustrated Democrats for the last two election cycles.
Huerta is the latest challenger to vie for the Central Valley's 21st Congressional District seat currently held by Rep. David Valadao (R-Hanford).
He is a labor lawyer and has worked for the United Farm Workers union, which his mother co-founded, throughout the Central Valley.
Democrats suffered an embarrassing landslide defeat in the district in 2014 despite having a 16 percentage point edge over Republicans in terms of registered voters.Amanda Renteria, a long-time Capital Hill staffer who grew up in the Central Valley, mounted an expensive campaign that year but still lost to Valadao by the same margin as the Democrat who faced him in 2012, 57.8% to 42.2%. (Renteria is now Hillary Clinton's national political director.)
Huerta, who quietly filed his declaration for candidacy Jan. 1, is counting on building a grassroots campaign base from his local family roots and a focus on economic issues and immigration reform.
"We can hopefully identify and fight for resources that can be brought to the valley," he said in an interview. "Clearly we have a broken immigration policy and a dysfunctional immigration system."
So far this cycle, Democrats have struggled to field a candidate to challenge Valadao, who national Republicans have put on a list of vulnerable incumbents.
Daniel T. Parra, a fellow Democrat and Fowler city councilman, is also running for the seat this cycle but has struggled to raise funds for what is likely to be an expensive race. His campaign reported raising just under $40,000 as of the end of the last quarter, and had less than $10,000 in cash on hand as of Sept. 30.
Democrat Connie Perez dropped out of the race in October despite spending big bucks on a Los Angeles consulting firm and an expensive video introducing herself to voters less than a month earlier.
Huerta is already facing criticism from Republicans for an issue that could carry extra weight in the tight-knit valley: He lives a few miles outside the 21st District in a patch of the 23rd District represented by House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield.
National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Zach Hunter labeled Huerta the "handpicked candidate [of Washington Democrats] who doesn’t even live in the district."
The issue could matter more in the Central Valley than the Bay Area or Los Angeles because in this region it is important for voters to know a candidate understands local and rural concerns, said veteran California political strategist Darry Sragow.
"If Valadao's campaign does its job it will try to make it a big issue and trap Huerta into having to defend his residency which means he will have less time to talk about issues voters really want to hear about," he said.
The 21st District covers a vast stretch of the Central Valley from Bakersfield north into Kettleman City and Wood Ranch. President Obama won the district twice and Latinos make up 71% of the population and 54% of registered voters in the district. Still, voters here can be conservative when it comes to economic and local issues, said Mike Madrid, a Republican strategist who is an expert in Latino politics.
"It is the last backbone of conservative politics in the state," he said of the Central Valley. "The Huerta name is not going to drive out any voters that would not have turned out naturally this election cycle."
Valley Democrats frustrated with national party leaders running local campaigns
Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee dictates terms, they say
National officials send in outsiders who know little of this region to run local races, local Democrats say
Democrats say it takes a person with local political knowledge to win Valley races
Several prominent Democrats from across the central and southern stretches of the San Joaquin Valley are frustrated with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, saying the organization is more a hindrance than a help in winning local elections.
The DCCC, local Democrats say, recruits congressional candidates with little local input. It imposes out-of-state staffers on these candidates, many of whom never have run a campaign in the Valley and instead rely on their knowledge from working other races – an approach that doesn’t work here. Worse, local Democrats say, those staffers don’t want local experience on how to run an effective campaign.
Tulare County native Connie Perez entered the 21st Congressional District race as a Democrat in October, only to withdraw less than a month later. Micromanaging by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee played a role in her decision to pull out. Courtesy photo
Much of the anger and frustration centers on the 21st Congressional District, where Hanford Republican David Valadao has trounced two straight Democratic Party challengers, even though Democrats have a commanding 17 percentage point lead in voter registration over the rival GOP. To a lesser extent, it is also the case in the 10th Congressional District, which is represented by Turlock Republican Jeff Denham. In that district, Republicans hold a slim registration advantage.
“There’s a frustration with the DCCC deciding what the rules are,” says Doug Kessler, Region 8 director for the state Democratic Party, an area that covers the Valley. “We want some say who a candidate is, and more importantly, have people who respect and understand the Valley and do not dictate to us.”
Defenders of the DCCC say the goal for the national organization is the same as local Democrats – to win. Whatever the DCCC does, they say, is done with an eye toward victory.
In a short statement, the DCCC said pretty much the same thing.
“The Central Valley deserves a representative that will stand up for them in Washington, unlike David Valadao,” spokeswoman Barb Solish said. “We are confident that a strong Democrat can and will win this seat.”
Local Democrats, however, aren’t convinced.
IN KINGS COUNTY, DEMOCRATS HERE WILL VOTE FOR A LOCAL PERSON EVERY TIME OVER AN OUTSIDER. EVEN A REPUBLICAN.
Holly Andradé Blair, executive board representative for the Kings County Democratic Central Committee
Last year, Valley native Amanda Renteria returned home from Washington, D.C., with a sterling résumé and a mission to unseat Valadao. She raised more than $1.7 million. She lost in a landslide.
Renteria was well liked locally, and there is broad agreement that she worked hard.
But some local Democrats say she was handcuffed by the DCCC.
Outsiders help Renteria
Her first campaign manager came from Boston with previous political experience that included a stint as campaign manager for Boston Mayor Thomas Menino as well as time working for John Edwards’ presidential campaign and Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill’s campaign. After the primary election, she left and was replaced by someone from the Los Angeles area.
Victor Moheno, a Visalia attorney and prominent Valley Democrat, liked Renteria and thought she had promise. He recalled the start of the campaign, when he and other local Democrats recommended a kickoff event that would identify local leaders in the district’s major towns, and then send Renteria on a campaign kickoff caravan across the district. It would, Moheno said, give the campaign a grassroots feel.
The suggestion fell on deaf ears and went nowhere.
Moheno said the second campaign manager was Hispanic like Renteria and a majority of the 21st District, but he was from Los Angeles.
“There’s an urban-rural distinction among Latinos that is dramatic,” Moheno said. “It ain’t the same. He didn’t run a Valley campaign. Sadly, those are the pros. They get paid a lot of money, but they don’t listen to people.”
Valadao ended up beating Renteria by the same 15-percentage point margin as his 2012 win over Fresno Democrat John Hernandez, who ran a campaign on a shoestring budget and had nearly no DCCC support.
“Unfortunately, I think it’s the culture of the Democratic Party hierarchy,” Moheno says of the tendency toward top-down micromanaging, be it from Sacramento or Washington.
After the loss, Democrats chalked it up – at least partly – to low turnout and a bad overall showing nationally by Democrats. They then looked to 2016, a presidential election year with guaranteed higher turnout, and said they would do better in their quest to knock off Valadao.
I THINK IT’S THE CULTURE OF THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY HIERARCHY.
Visalia attorney and Democratic Party activist Victor Moheno, on the party’s tendency toward top-down micromanaging
But this year – a key time leading up to the 2016 election when candidates decide to run and start raising money and earning endorsements – has been a disaster for Democrats.
Kessler recalls a Region 8 Democratic Party meeting in Visalia this past summer, when the DCCC was invited. The organization ended up attending via telephone – and got an earful. The message to the DCCC: Why don’t you care about the Valley?
Holly Andradé Blair, executive board representative for the Kings County Democratic Central Committee, wonders if the DCCC does care.
“I’m proud to come from Kings County and proud to be from the Valley,” she says. “I enjoy living here, and when outsiders, particularly the DCCC – they’re clear across the country – look at this area, it’s an afterthought. It gets to me. We’re not an afterthought.”
Then, Fowler Mayor Pro Tem Daniel Parra was the only Democratic challenger to Valadao.
He entered the race in mid-April but has been unable to raise money. As of Sept. 30, he had raised less than $40,000 and has a little more than $10,000 in his campaign account.
The DCCC wasn’t impressed and began looking for another candidate, a move that upset some local Democrats.
In early September, word leaked that Tulare County native Connie Perez was being courted by the DCCC. In mid-October she announced her run using a slick campaign video. Less than a month later, she was out.
For some Democrats, she couldn’t be gone soon enough. Perez was a Tulare County native but was living in Pasadena while she worked as a partner at the Bakersfield-based Brown Armstrong Accountancy Corp. It also seemed she was hand-picked and groomed by the DCCC. Her campaign announcement came from a prominent Democratic communications firm in Los Angeles.
“What’s important about representation is we pick somebody we want to represent us, not some Democrats in Washington, D.C., or in Sacramento,” Blair said. “I don’t want somebody from outside picking my candidate for me. I’m perfectly capable of choosing my own candidate. Even if that candidate loses, it’s my choice.”
But it was no picnic for Perez, some supporters say.
She was being micromanaged by the DCCC, they contend. The organization designed her campaign and demanded she use their vendors. That means, for instance, that well-known Valley pollster Jim Moore was out, even though he knows the region. The DCCC would withhold money unless the candidate played by its rules, Perez supporters say.
A short time later, Bakersfield City School District Trustee Andrae Gonzales said he was exploring a run. A week later, he decided against it.
Now, the name of Bakersfield attorney Emilio Huerta, son of United Farm Workers co-founder Dolores Huerta, has emerged.
The National Republican Congressional Committee – the DCCC’s Washington, D.C., counterpart – is watching the spectacle with glee, firing off snarky emails with each Democratic Party move in the 21st District. One sentence in a news release on Huerta’s possible candidacy starts, “After four high-profile rejections …”
By this time, local Democrats say, the DCCC shouldn’t be recruiting candidates but should instead be turning its attention to winning the election.
THERE’S A FRUSTRATION WITH THE DCCC DECIDING WHAT THE RULES ARE. WE WANT SOME SAY WHO A CANDIDATE IS, AND MORE IMPORTANTLY, HAVE PEOPLE WHO RESPECT AND UNDERSTAND THE VALLEY AND DO NOT DICTATE TO US.
Doug Kessler, Region 8 director for the California Democratic Party
Moheno, the Visalia Democrat, says the locals learned what it takes to win congressional elections with Cal Dooley, a Democrat who used to hold the seat that now covers much of the same territory as Valadao’s 21st District.
Others say home-grown success goes beyond congressional wins with Dooley or Fresno Democrat Jim Costa – it also stretches to the state Senate and Assembly, to Democrats like former state Sen. Michael Rubio and outgoing Assemblyman Henry T. Perea.
The reason those Democrats won in the Valley, they say, is they understood the need to be moderate and to win crossover support from agriculture and business. Going too far left, they say, is a death knell here, but it is often part of the DCCC playbook.
Blair, the Kings County Democrat, says being local is also important, as is visiting little towns like Stratford, Avenal and Kettleman City.
“In Kings County, Democrats here will vote for a local person every time over an outsider,” she says. “Even a Republican.”
Maybe that’s why the NRCC is hitting on Huerta not for having UFW lineage, but for living just a few miles outside the 21st District’s boundaries.
Michael Evans, chairman of the Fresno County Democratic Central Committee, says there must be an understanding that the Valley’s political landscape is not only unlike the rest of California, but also the rest of the nation. Within the Valley, Kings County is different from Fresno County. These nuanced differences make local input into campaigns vital, he says.
“If you bring someone in from Sacramento, they have maybe a little bit of understanding, but you bring someone in from D.C., they have zero understanding, so yeah, that can be very frustrating,” Evans says.