Sunday, September 02, 2007

CA-42: Rise of the bloggers

Next door to us in Orange County, an unheard of thing is now happening. A blogger is running for Congress. Not a politician who started blogging because that's the new medium, but an honest to God regular ol' blogger who finally decided he had enough, and with a great group of fellow blogging friends, took the jump and became a candidate. His name is Ron Shepston, and he's running against one of the most corrupt Republicans (and that's saying quite a lot) in Congress, Gary Miller.

Back in July, we had a series of diaries gradually rolling out the announcement on DailyKos, using the combined forces of some of the top bloggers living in Southern California. Here are the diaries from that time for everyone to read up on the candidate, the movement, the opponent, and the lay of the land.

Previous diaries in the CA-42 campaign rollout series:
7/15: thereisnospoon's CA-42: A Kossack is running for Congress
7/16: atdnext's CA-42: The Case Against Dirty Gary Miller
7/17: Major Danby's CA-42: I'm managing a netroots U.S. House campaign
7/18: CanYouBeAngryAndStillDream's CA-42: Hi, I'm Ron Shepston and I'm running for Congress
7/19: hekebolos's CA-42: A Netroots campaign-- politics the way it should be.
7/20: dday's CA-42: The Lay of the Land
7/21: OrangeClouds115's CA-42: "I Know His Heart"
7/22: Shockwave's CA-42: Ron Shepston rides into a Republican stronghold
7/23: Major Danby's CA-42: The DCCC knows us, reads us, and likes us
7/24: Major Danby's CA-42: On YearlyKos, anger, and dreams
7/25: thereisnospoon's Get Off the Internet!
7/26: buhdydharma's Help Save This Baby! **
7/27: clammyc's CA-42, 2008 and the netroots: a jumping off point

What everyone here should know is that some of the key braintrust behind Ron's campaign are recent UCLA grads. A few weeks ago, L.A. City Beat did an excellent profile of the campaign and its genesis, putting three UCLA grads from the Class of 2003 as the main photo for the piece.

More than a year ago at Canter’s Deli, a group of political bloggers met to celebrate the arrival of a friend from New York City. The occasion: Their friend, Adam Lambert, was the first recommended diarist on DailyKos, a big deal on the political blog that currently boasts about a half million hits a day. All attending were regular DailyKos posters who had become friends after sharing their ideas about the Democratic Party. It was meant to be a pleasant evening, but a sore spot came up fast.

Everybody present believed in the idea of the “50-state strategy” espoused by 2004 presidential candidate Howard Dean: Campaign everywhere, and build the Democratic Party by winning elections. As progressive Democrats, each had made this idea the hub of their political platform; but nobody had announced a candidacy for the 42nd Congressional district that covers much of Orange County. Would entrenched Republican incumbent Gary Miller run unopposed again? The bloggers felt their beliefs were at stake, and an atmosphere of collective frustration hung over the celebration.

Then somebody remembered a little detail. He turned to Ron Shepston, the athlete in the crowd, the pink-faced engineer with username “CanYouBeAngryAndStillDream,” and asked a not-so-innocent question.

“Ron, don’t you live in Orange?”

Tired of just typing away their concerns, the bloggers went home from the get-together with an idea that would put their political talents to the test: They would nominate one of their own. Shepston was going to run for Congress in 2008.


His campaign is managed by Greg Diamond – username “Major Danby” – a lawyer from Chicago and, at the moment, the only paid staff member. His team is a ragtag collection of enthusiastic volunteers with a flair for writing, a strong commitment to the Democratic Party, and a fondness for odd usernames such as “thereisnospoon,” “hekebolos,” “Shockwave,” “OrangeClouds115,” “occams hatchet,” “dday,” and “clammyc.”

Two of Shepston’s most ardent supporters are brothers David and Dante Atkins. Both graduated from UCLA with degrees in Latin and Greek and later founded their own research company, the Pollux Group Inc. Padding around in their comfortable apartment off the Miracle Mile, they pause thoughtfully before offering their positions in the company. David, 26, is president, and Dante, 25, is vice-president. Both are quick to dismiss the prevailing myths about bloggers.

“Our political opposition – and this comes from both entrenched Democrats and Republicans – like to perpetuate this frame of sorts that we’re all young punks sitting in our mother’s basement who have no political experience or professional expertise,” said Dante. By contrast, for example, David Atkins (whose username, “thereisnospoon,” references The Matrix) has parlayed his Internet reputation into editorships on other political community blogs and invitations to exclusive press conferences.


“The party’s getting better, partly due to pressure from people like us,” David Atkins said, “but by and large there’s still this thing where people believe, all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding, that Americans are going to be scared off if a Democratic candidate takes democratic positions on universal healthcare, the environment, the climate crisis, Social Security, or the occupation of Iraq.”

Dean’s strategy was contrary to the dominant Democratic practice of “triangulation,” in which candidates tried to position themselves as simply being more moderate than the Republicans – and, even then, to only campaign in swing districts where winning was more likely.

The result, as David Atkins put it, is that “nobody knew what the Democratic Party stood for anymore, because we spent so long triangulating away from anything we believed in.”

Hopefully the Bruin Democrats can get Ron to come out to an event or meeting later this year. I know he'd be very enthusiastic about it, and there will most definitely be volunteer opportunities in his campaign for us to really sink our teeth into in the next 14 months. For now, you can add him as a friend on Facebook.

1 comment:

Ron Shepston said...

Thanks bruinkid. I would love to talk to any groups up that way.

My son, daughter-in-law and another very good friend are also UCLA grads so it would just feel right to talk to people up there.