Proposal to Endorse Steve Dunwoody

The Electoral Politics committee has voted to endorse Steve Dunwoody for the California State Assembly, and advocates for the endorsement of Steve Dunwoody for the California State Assembly (AD-54) by DSA-LA as a chapter.

Additionally, the Electoral Politics committee advocates for the sponsorship and development of events to support his candidacy, including but not limited to canvasses, phone banks, and awareness-raising events for both the upcoming special election (whose winner will serve out the remainder of the 2018 term) and the upcoming regular election (whose winner will serve from 2019 to 2020).

Given the number of significant campaigns that the chapter is currently engaged in, the committee further advocates that all efforts in support of Dunwoody primarily focus on activating members in and around AD-54, and that efforts at public engagement (canvasses, phone banks, media outreach) strategically integrate support for the chapter’s other major campaigns when possible and when such integration is approved by both the proposing committee or member body of the other major campaigns and the Electoral Politics committee.

A note on the election calendar:

  • The special election primary is on April 3, 2018. If no candidate receives more than 50 percent of the vote, the top two vote-getters will proceed to a runoff for the 2018 seat on June 5.
  • The regular election primary is also on June 5—should Dunwoody progress to the special runoff, his name would appear twice on that ballot—and the top two vote-getters will proceed to a runoff for the 2019-2020 seat on November 6.

A DSA-LA candidate questionnaire was drafted by the Electoral Politics committee and completed by Steve Dunwoody prior to the committee endorsement and can be read here.

Electoral Politics Committee Analysis:

(Note: The following analysis was updated on February 8, the date of the filing deadline for candidates in this district, to include more information about the field)

Assembly District 54 is one of the most diverse and progressive districts in the state, and is home to some of LA County’s highest concentrations of renters, students, and Bernie Sanders voters. But for the past three years, it has been represented by State Assemblymember Sebastian Ridley-Thomas, a member of the business-friendly “mod squad” caucus in the State Assembly, which regularly kills or waters down legislation that DSA cares about like SB-562 (single-payer healthcare), SB-10 (the end of cash bail), and SB-54 (making California a sanctuary state). On December 27, 2017, Ridley-Thomas announced he was quitting his job, triggering a special election on April 3rd to fill his seat for the remainder of the term.  

In the weeks since, a number of candidates have thrown their hats in the ring: Steve Dunwoody, Sydney Kamlager, Tepring Michelle Piquado, Grayson Pangilinan, and Glen Ratcliff.  The DSA-LA Electoral Political Committee is excited to endorse candidate Steve Dunwoody and asks that DSA-LA vote to endorse Steve for Assembly.

Why Endorse Steve Dunwoody?

Steve Dunwoody is a gay black man and the proud son of union auto workers in Detroit. He is an anti-war veteran who acts as the California director of the Vet Voice foundation. He was a Bernie Sanders delegate at the 2016 Democratic Convention, and has since fought alongside Sanders to keep medical costs down, preserve the San Gabriel mountains, and drastically cut California’s carbon emissions.

Dunwoody has been seeking DSA’s endorsement and has been running a campaign for this seat since the fall of 2017, with the intent of challenging Ridley-Thomas. Dunwoody’s platform deeply aligns with the policy goals and values of DSA-LA: he wants to create a state bank, repeal Costa-Hawkins and the Ellis Act, ensure workers’ rights to collectively bargain and work fair schedules, end cash bail, divest from private prisons, ban fracking, ban any California law enforcement collaboration with ICE, and create a single-payer healthcare system for California—and has been endorsed by the California Nurses Association for his dedication to that goal.

Beyond our specific policy goals, Dunwoody also understands that the capitalist system in which we live (and which largely controls our political system) is at the root of the problems facing our society. In his candidate questionnaire (which you can read in full here), he’s made clear that “democracy isn’t compatible with a massive concentration of wealth” and that “democracy requires reigning in the unchecked flow of capital in pursuit of profit.” Like Gayle McLaughlin, he is not accepting any corporate donations while fundraising for his campaign.

Who Else Is Running?

As of the filing deadline on February 8, several other candidates have filed nomination papers to run for this assembly seat, most of whom are people of color and running on the Democratic line.

The candidate that appears to be leading, in both fundraising and support from established Democratic politicians, is Sydney Kamlager, a board member for the Los Angeles Community College District and District Director for progressive State Senator Holly Mitchell. Kamlager has already received a large number of endorsements from the Democratic Party, and has already received donations from a natural gas industry consultant and a large construction company. She has yet to release an official platform or specific stances on issues important to DSA-LA members such as a state bank, rent control and the development of affordable housing, divestment from private prisons, banning fracking, banning any California law enforcement collaboration with ICE, and a single-payer healthcare system. In order to find out where she stands on these issues, the Electoral Politics committee sent her our AD-54 candidate questionnaire soon after she entered the race—however, after confirming that she had received our questionnaire, she declined to answer.

There are a few other candidates who may have progressive politics—Tepring Michelle Piquado and Grayson Pangilinan are both political newcomers whose policy positions are unclear. Additionally, trans activist Ashlee Preston had announced her intent to run for this position, but as of the filing deadline on February 8, the LA County elections office indicated that Preston had not officially filed nomination papers. Regardless, Steve is the only candidate that has taken a public stand on the issues that DSA-LA cares about, the only candidate who has been actively seeking our endorsement for months, the only candidate who has been dedicated to running a serious campaign from the left since the fall of 2017, the only candidate who has been endorsed by DSA-LA allies like the California Nurses Association and Food and Water Watch, and the only candidate who has enthusiastically agreed to share resources and knowledge with DSA-LA (within the limits of campaign finance law) and help build up our own independent power in the district.

We believe that Steve Dunwoody’s strong platform, his long-standing dedication to people-powered candidates like Bernie Sanders, and his active pursuit of the DSA-LA endorsement and desire to strengthen our organization makes him a candidate that DSA-LA should actively support.

A Note on the Democratic Line

It’s true, Dunwoody is running as a Democrat, something that may concern some DSA-LA members. And like Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders before him, it would be fair to say that his long-term political goals skew closer to those of social democracy, not a democratic socialism that aims to entirely dismantle capitalism. But from day one, Dunwoody has been running a corporate-free campaign against the Democratic party machine—and he has campaigned seriously for over 6 months on a platform that aligns with all of DSA-LA’s medium-term policy goals. In a district where third-party candidates have never won more than five percent in any election (and those candidates who came close were running as Libertarians, decades ago), running a serious campaign to win means running on the democratic line.

Why Is Supporting Steve’s Campaign Good for DSA-LA?

Supporting Dunwoody is good for membership engagement: DSA-LA has 145 members in Assembly District 54 and another 150 members within a mile of its borders—our chapter could greatly benefit from engaging and activating our Westside members, who often have to make difficult commutes to participate in DSA-LA meetings and actions. As an intensely local race where every vote counts—the April primary is likely to hinge on fewer than 1000 votes—this campaign can serve as a rallying point for DSA on the west side.

And supporting Dunwoody is good for building our capacity as an electoral force: he has been actively seeking the endorsement of DSA-LA since early in his campaign, and sees our organization as a key component of his winning coalition. DSA-LA’s district membership and many talented, media-savvy members puts us in the position of being able to influence this low-turnout race. With that in mind, the campaign has preliminarily asked us to help run their digital campaign, and has agreed to share campaign tools, resources and data, which would allow us to run our own media and field operations—we’ll have a chance to cut our own turf, knock our own doors, represent DSA’s message to the district, and shape his campaign’s online message ourselves.

This is a significant opportunity to train a large cohort of DSA members to be more effective campaign operatives, while also allowing us to keep Dunwoody accountable over the course of the campaign and his tenure in office. If we can organize effectively to be a major factor in his victory, shape his public message throughout the campaign, and gain the skills to run our own candidates in the process, DSA-LA will be able to create a significant and influential relationship with a sitting State Assemblymember.

And regardless of the outcome of the race, endorsing Steve Dunwoody and supporting his campaign in this way will make for a stronger, smarter, and more capable DSA-LA.

We urge you to join us in that endorsement, and to support DSA-LA’s strategic engagement in one of our most member-rich and under-activated districts.