ELECTION ‘12//ASSEMBLY 20//ANALYSIS | When it comes to the newfangled open primary system, the appearance of two Democrats on the November ballot has proven to show early and expected signs of fraying upon the party fabric. This is happening in the nearby 18th Assembly, but not so much in the 20th where former Hayward Councilman Bill Quirk has the solid backing of the district’s Democratic Party over political newcomer Dr. Jennifer Ong, another Democrat. So, it makes sense for Ong to move to the left of the already solidly blue Quirk. In fact, Ong is going full bore in immersing her rhetoric with the words of the Occupy movement.
Wednesday night, Ong commingled her soft opposition to Proposition 30, the governor’s sales tax initiative on the November ballot, with calls to help those with less. Her opponent, Quirk, has made his support for the measure one of the major policy pegs of his campaign. Many other Democrats have also taken to stumping for the proposition, but not Ong, who admits her stance has elicited frowns from local party leaders. “Of course, I’ve had pressure from the party, but if I was here just to do what everyone else says I’m supposed to do, instead of who I’m supposed to be serving, then why should I even run for office?” said Ong. “This is it. This is where I’m supposed to say something. Were we serious about the Occupy Movement? Because that’s who I’m listening to.”
In most ways, being elected to the State Legislature is like becoming a small fish in a big pond. Ong says she understands the ramifications, if elected, for eschewing the party line. “It’s a big risk for me, but I’m speaking more for people with a lesser voice and I thought that’s what the Democratic Party was standing for, too.” Ong, however, says she is not actively telling voters to vote against Prop. 30, but for herself, she cannot back it. “I won’t be able to personally support that,” said Ong. “It’s trying to stick it to the poor.”
Her move to the far left would appear to be a strategy to gain the support of hardcore Progressives who may feel disillusioned by President Barack Obama’s lack of action over the past four years on social and economic issues regarding the disaffected and poor. While many of those type of voters largely exist in more liberal Oakland rather than the Hayward area, Ong is co-opting some of their rhetoric to gain a larger portion of a demographic that does dominate the 20th District—immigrants.
Although, Ong denied the allusion to the Filipino populist uprising of 25 years ago called “People Power” used during last Wednesday’s forum was used on purpose, it nonetheless makes sense when gaining the vote of people steeped in the immigrant’s experience. “It’s not about who you are connected with or how much money you have,” said Ong, “it’s actually what you believe in, and if you work hard in this country, people power still works.”