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Leaning left 

Every year on the Fourth of July, I re-read the Declaration of Independence and each time, I'm reminded of its essential truth: That all of us are created equal, endowed by our creator with certain inalienable rights, and that governments are instituted to secure those rights. Our rights are not endowed by government. Our rights are inherent in our humanity.

In the nearly 250 years since our nation's founding, Americans have valued these words and we have fought for them. We've protected this idea against enemies both foreign and domestic. We engaged in a Civil War to assure the endurance of government of, by, and for the people.

The declaration reminds us, too, that whenever government shall become destructive of those ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it.

Clearly, voters in SLO County are altering the course of our government to preserve our rights: After a generation in the minority, registered Democrats now outnumber Republicans in our county by almost 4 percent, 38.2 percent to 34.4 percent—and the results are clear: In the June 7 primary, Dawn Addis and three other Democrats together outpolled the only GOP Assembly candidate on the ballot by 56 percent to 44 percent in SLO County alone. District-wide, with Monterey County and Santa Cruz County voters, Democrats won 63 percent versus the Republican's 37 percent. Come November, Addis is heavily favored to win the new 30th state Assembly District, thus becoming the first Democrat to represent SLO in the Assembly since 1968.

It may be too soon to color SLO County as "safe Democratic," but we're clearly leaning that way. Republicans haven't won the presidential contest in SLO County since 2004. In Congress, SLO County voters have favored Democrats since 2008: Congressman Salud Carbajal of Santa Barbara is on track to win his fourth term in November. Fellow incumbent Democrat Jimmy Panetta from Monterey is expected to represent the North County, which was moved into Panetta's 19th District by redistricting. Democratic state Sen. John Laird is midway through his first two-year term.

The Board of Supervisors is poised to have a clear center-left majority soon, with last week's victory by Supervisor-Elect Jimmy Paulding in the 4th District—contingent on long-serving (and front-running) incumbent Supervisor Bruce Gibson retaining his 2nd District seat. Supervisor Dawn Ortiz-Legg will continue to hold the 3rd District.

Four of the county's incorporated cities have a clear moderate-to-liberal majority. In the other three cities, popular moderates hold the gavel—Steve Martin (Democrat) in Paso, and Heather Moreno and Ed Waage (Republicans) in Atascadero and Pismo, respectively. This is as it should be. Local government—especially our municipalities—should be the place where partisan affiliation is incidental.

Unfortunately, that is not the way our current Board of Supervisors majority managed our redistricting process after the 2020 census. Population shifts among the five districts were not so large that the board was required to re-draw the district boundaries at all; only very minor adjustments were needed. Despite an enormous outcry, the board majority voted to completely re-draw the boundaries to improve the chances of retaining their majority.

We've seen how well that went: The incumbent 4th District supervisor, a Republican, has lost her seat to Paulding despite the nearly five-point advantage in Republican registration in the new district adopted by the board. It's unlikely, too, that the 2nd District runoff in November will unseat Gibson, a Democrat, in favor of Republican-endorsed candidate Bruce Jones, though Gibson fell just short of an outright majority in the June primary.

The new 2nd District has a four-point Republican advantage, so why are Republicans unlikely to prevail in November? One only needs to view the intense primary battle between Bruce Jones and third-place finisher Geoff Auslen. The local GOP is badly divided, and unlikely to paper over their differences to build a winning campaign against the pragmatic and diligent Gibson.

The national GOP has also fouled its own nest and alienated mainstream voters through its continued attempt to overturn the 2020 election and by denying the significance of the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol. Many local GOP leaders have also launched vicious attacks on Democrats in local office—toxic tactics designed not to win over voters on substance, but to foment distrust between voters and elected officials, between rich and poor, between white and non-white, and between those obsessed with firearms and those who prefer the "necessity of a well-regulated militia."

Our founders never intended for this nation to yield to the despotism and rancor that suffuses today's GOP. Voters in this county, including this voter, are increasingly seeking out candidates who value civility, who reject violence in all its forms, and who want our government—and our democracy—to continue to secure our rights. Δ

John Ashbaugh has been engaged in local politics since arriving in SLO county in 1977. Write a response for publication by emailing [email protected].

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