It is morning in the Central Valley and that pungent aroma in the air is not the local dairy. It’s the smell of defeat. Forty-eight hours ago, Democrats lost a seat that we held for 47 of the past 55 years. Let that sink in for a minute. The question we should be asking ourselves this morning isn't “why?” or “how?” but rather “What is next? And what have we learned?” What do Democrats in Sacramento and in the Central Valley do next year to protect their state senate supermajority and bounce back from Republican Andy Videk’s victory this week in the 16th District special election against Democrat Leticia Perez? First, in order to protect the supermajority, Sacramento leadership will have to think almonds, oil, and water, because it will all come down to Central Valley seats. They either have to recapture Sen.-elect Vidak's seat or defeat Sen. Anthony Canella, R-Ceres.
To recapture the 16th District seat, we need to find new blood. I think Kern Democratic Party Chairwoman Candi Easter put it best when she said, "do we want someone who's already lost twice?" Bingo! That is the key!
This loss has to be a wake-up call for the party. It is time to find "organic, non-political” candidates to run in 2014 — and this is not only applicable in the Central Valley, but across the state. The message sent to Sacramento by the voters this past Tuesday was clear” “We don't want ‘insider’ politicians thinking about self service, we want locally grown ‘outsiders’ who stand for public service.” Central Valley voters are particularly disenchanted with the musical-chair style, “passing through en route to higher office” candidates. Sacramento leadership should thus let such a candidate bubble up from the district itself in order to win back this crucial seat. The political-machine driven, "next-in-line" process of the Kern Democratic Central Committee is clearly not working, as evidenced this week in SD16.
A creditable, democratic outsider is needed in 2014. And we have some great choices in Kern County: Community College Chancellor Sandra Serrano or Nile Water Director Tim Ruiz of east Bakersfield, just to name two. Leadership at the Central Committee will have to reevaluate its strategy and change tactics in order to ensure a solid, democratic victory next year. The lesson this week: Outsiders win. The days of insider politicians generated by the party “machine” are over. We as Democrats need to get back to basics in the Central Valley. Independent fighters are needed; those generated by the “machine” need not apply.
Dean Florez, a Shafter native, represented the 16th District of the State Senate from 2002 until 2010 and was a two-term Assemblyman prior to that.
An earlier version of this contributed article erroneously said Democrats had held the 16th District seat for 55 years.