The Faculty Guild Campaign - How We Won
By Natalina Monteiro
Guild Political Director
The Faculty Guild campaign to elect trustees in 2020 started in 2017. Scott Svonkin had bullied himself into a third consecutive term as Board President and used the power of his presidency to take away our $1500 Health Reimbursement Account (HRA), harming every full-time employee in the LACCD. He fought against us and opposed our contract that year, so we began searching for a good candidate who could beat him, a woman we could work with and who would address the many critical issues that Svonkin ignored or made worse.
The 21 members of the Committee on Political Education (COPE), including two Staff Guild reps, interviewed most of the dozens of candidates who came to us seeking endorsement. COPE recommended, and the Executive Committee agreed, to endorse incumbents Andra Hoffman, David Vela, and Mike Fong, based on these Trustees’ performance, including supporting our contracts, providing our $1500 HRA, a maximum class size of 42, COLA, paying for Medicare Part B, and lobbying in Sacramento. Above all, their doors are always open to hear our ideas and positions. Actions speak louder than words.
To take out Svonkin, we selected Nichelle Henderson, who met all our criteria. She teaches at CSULA, is a leader in the California Faculty Association (the CSU faculty union) and in the community, including the African American Women’s Political Association and the Los Angeles County Democratic Party, critical since over 70% of LACCD voters are Democrats. She showed savvy, determination, and hard work that helped her to get many key endorsements, including the LA Times. Our candidates also sent out countless emails, including Dear Friend cards and helped get endorsements and raise money for the campaign.
We took the next step in our strategy two years ago, meeting with Parke Skelton, a respected political consultant, who has helped us for decades by managing slates, mailings, and other aspects of our campaigns. We planned how to get endorsements for our candidates. Then we arranged to send out as many slate cards and letters as needed to reach and persuade the 2 million likely voters.
An early step of our strategy was polling the voters in September 2019. It showed that we could beat Svonkin if we got a good candidate and had enough money to get our message out. This time the trustee election was at the same time as a national election, meaning that far more voters would turn out, so our Committee on Political Education (COPE) recommended that we allocate one million dollars on top of the annual COPE fund, and the executive Board unanimously agreed. Then we polled again in June and determined that we could win with a strong campaign.
Even before we had our candidates, Parke nailed down the best slates and then got our fabulous four on all the best slates at the lowest possible price. We sent over 10 million slate cards and letters, sent millions of digital messages, and talked to thousands of voters by phone. That sounds like a lot of snail mail, but for 2 million likely voters that’s just five pieces per voter. We did not waste our money on TV, billboards or lawn signs since very few voters see them. Slate cards and Dear Friend cards helped voters as they filled out their ballots.
We were successful in bringing the labor movement on board to support Henderson. Our strong working relationships with the LA Federation of Labor, CFT, United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA), Building Trades (IBEW-Local 11), and all of the other union political directors helped to shift their support from Svonkin to Henderson. We received cooperation and assistance from CFT, our statewide union, AFT 1388 (El Camino), FACCC, and the Democratic Party to send our cards, letters, emails, and texts, and conduct phone banking. Special thanks to Jessica Ulstad, CFT Political Director, Mark Gonzalez, head of the LA County Democratic Party, and Karen May, Field Coordinator of CADEM 2020 Coordinated Campaign.
I want to thank everyone who helped to win this historic victory, especially the Guild Executive Board, who trusted us by voting to allocate enough to pay for all the slates, letters, polling, email, and social media, needed to get the message out to 2 million voters. We also engaged our members, thanks to Seo Yun Sun, Chase Golding, and all the Guild volunteers who made calls and handed out Dear Friend cards to family, friends, and neighbors.
Special thanks to Ruby Christian-Brougham, to our student interns, and to other students who staffed the phone banks, and for the hard work of student intern coordinators Juan Carlos Vasquez, Sonny Martinez, and David Eduardo Orellana Rivera, who met with me weekly to brainstorm and plan the next steps, as well as organize the town halls, and recruit interns for the phone banks, demonstrating the value of our Student Intern Program.
We will start strategizing next year for the 2022 election, and I’m already starting our search to find our next woman of color to further balance our Board of Trustees.