Steve Glazer is a symbol of change.
The Democrat mayor of Orinda, Glazer, won a decisive victory over Concord Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla in last week’s special election for the vacant 7th District State Senate seat. Given California’s open primary system, it was a Democrat vs. Democrat runoff in which Glazer’s foes resorted to attacking him as being a DINO – Democrat in Name Only.
Glazer identifies as a progressive Democrat and is a former political consultant to Governor Brown. While his election will not reverse the Democrats’ stronghold on the Senate, his rejection of blind party loyalty beholden to powerful special interests – led by public sector unions – marked him a target to defeat by these unions and Democratic Party bosses dependent on them.
Glazer’s victory wasn’t cheap. In fact, much of both Bonilla’s and Glazer’s electioneering was paid for by special interests, which spent more than $7 million in the runoff to support their candidate – more than three times what the candidates raised.
Labor unions and the California Democratic Party backed Bonilla – defining her as the “true” Democrat. Outside interests, like charter schools and the business community (including one wealthy businessman) matched their spending prowess, funding Glazer’s campaign.
Political reformers are hopeful that Glazer’s election could become the poster child for a more independent Democrat in California – one who remains loyal to the party on most social issues, including support for fighting climate change, reproductive rights, higher education expansion and accessibility, but more restrained on fiscal issues, including taxation, pensions and the rights of public sector unions to strike.
Privately, many Democratic officials resent the seemingly unabated power commanding policy and electoral outcomes in Sacramento, but fear confrontation with the hand that feeds them. There is a thin blue line in the political world for Democrats, many choosing to “go along to get along” to lengthen their political careers – but, in the process of doing so, they perpetuate California’s fiscal dysfunction and block reforms, particularly in education and pension systems.
Glazer had conviction and courage. This week he was sworn in having looked the most powerful special interests in the eye and taken them on by any means necessary, including targeting his message to a more independent voter likely to vote in a special election, while his opponent’s supporters tried to paint him as a new type of political devil trying to falsely gain entrance into the Democratic Party. Steve Maviglio, a Democratic political consultant, railed that Glazer was “an opportunist” who would become “an island in the State Senate since neither D’s or R’s will trust him.”
On election night, Shawnda Westly, executive director of the California Democratic Party, rather than congratulating him, seemed to embarrassingly be in denial that a Democrat didn’t have to follow her dictate and could actually be independent and win. She publicly lashed out at Glazer, releasing a scathing “official” statement from the party saying that “[Glazer] claimed to be Democrat but ran a cynical campaign to appeal to Republican voters in a low-turnout election” and, essentially, warning that future candidates shouldn’t think about doing what he did.
Boo hoo for party bosses.
Bravo for independent candidates of all stripes – those bold enough to not drink the Kool-Aid of power as dictated to them by others; bold enough to actually have a spine.
About the Author: Gloria Romero, a Los Angeles resident, served in the California Legislature from 1998 to 2008, the last seven years as Senate majority leader. Romero is the director of education reform for the California Policy Center. This article originally appeared in the Orange County Register and is republished here with permission from the author.