Abel Guillen has charisma, energy and optimism – but is he mature enough for Sacramento?
When you meet Abel Guillen, and get past his physical presence (Abel is a big guy), you cannot but feel at ease with him. He is friendly, smart, empathetic – and real. The latter is something you don’t find often in politics: people who don’t hide themselves behind facades or carefully sculpted images. To use the Bush-age phrase, Abel is someone you’d definitely like to have a beer (and some nachos) with. I can’t really say the same thing about either of his opponents.
Abel’s genuineness extends to his ideals and his agenda. He’d be your typical grass root progressive, if such thing existed any more. His belief in a more equitable society, in education as the “ticket out” of poverty, but also the cornerstone of a democracy, harkens to a time before the Democratic party lost its idealism and commitment to justice in all its forms. Abel wants to create a better California from the ground up. Education, healthcare and social services are essential; children who are malnourished, sick and uneducated will not only fail to accomplish their own potential as human beings, but might become a burden on society. The nurses and teachers support him because they see him as the most likely candidate to fight for these services – and I’d even say, the most likely candidate to fight for anything, period. Abel is a fighter, he is in his mid-thirties and has won quite a few battles, he still has hope.
I had already endorsed Rob Bonta when Abel called last January and asked to meet with me. Abel had not answered my request for a meeting back in the Fall, when I was interviewing all the candidates. I’d figured, if a candidate doesn’t want to make an effort to meet with me, he doesn’t really want or deserve my endorsement. Plus I was a bit suspicious of Abel to begin with. The pictures of him on his website made him look arrogant; he is not married or has children, which for me is a big minus. Still, my friend Jim Prola kept telling me that Abel was the candidate for me, that he was the closest to my political beliefs and that I should meet him. So I did. His hope and optimism won me over.
If you’ve been following my blog, you probably know that I have become disenchanted with politics, and the possibilities of real change. I the last six years, I worked on the campaigns of several School Board members, the Mayor and a council member, hoping that if we just had the right people in office they’d bring change. None of them did, it’s all more politics as usual with different suits. Nationally, things are even worse. I will admit that I never drank Obama’s kool-aid, but for a few moments I dared, perhaps, to hope. Then Obama made such a mockery of that word that I thought my hope would be buried forever. And now comes Abel and maybe, just maybe, he’s rekindling it.
I think Abel has hope, I think he believes things can be better. He, himself, is the son of poor immigrants. His parents came from Mexico, his dad worked his way from a dishwasher to a pastry chef in a hotel, his mom became a cook. He grew up in the Mission and saw friends and acquaintances fall victim to violence, but he persevered, was lucky enough to get the right teachers and mentors, and went on to graduate from Berkeley. His goal, he told me, was to “do good, but also do well,” anything else would be a betrayal of his family and their dreams. I think that is exactly the philosophy we should instill on our children. Abel got a job with a financial company helping school districts pass bonds, it’s a good job, he does well, but by helping schools he’s also doing good. His work as a trustee at the Peralta Community Colleges board is yet another instance, he’s probably the most engaged trustee I’ve ever seen.
I have high hopes for Abel if he gets elected to the Assembly. He has some very innovative ideas that he’ll be able to push directly. One that has my full heart support is that of creating a state bank. A bank that is not driven by profit could do much good and definitely much less bad than one that is. It would assure that any revenue was re-invested in the state, it would make it easier for small businesses to have access to credit and could help all consumers to not be taken in by ridiculous bank fees. I do hope that if Abel is not elected, whoever is will take this idea on. But it’s exactly this type of bold ideas that make me excited about Abel.
I do, however, also have a couple of concerns. My main one has to do about how he’s ran his campaign. Not following up and meeting with me back in the fall was a basic mistake – whether I have any influence with voters through my blog is debatable, but as a member of the Alameda County Democratic Central Committee (ACDCC) I do get to vote on which candidates the party should endorse. But there have been many other mistakes – from not getting a good photographer to do his pictures (he still has that picture with his arrogant smirk on his website), to having badly designed mailers, to not following up with people who were willing to host events or do volunteer work for him, etc. etc.
Just as problematic is the fact that his campaign manager, Winnie Anderson, decided to run for the ACDCC this June. Anderson was recruited to run by Ignacio De La Fuente, an Oakland City Council member who is trying to take over the party. I think any casual political observer would see how having your campaign manager take the side of someone who is trying to subvert the party, and have her run against some of your supporters (I, for example, am also running for re-election to the ACDCC) is not a good move. Indeed, it’s almost a guaranteed move to lose support within the party. I’m not personally bothered that Anderson is running against me, 19 people are running for 10 positions, but this shows such a lack of judgment by Abel that it makes me question whether he’s politically mature enough to go to the Assembly.
All that said, the choice for me is really between Bonta and Guillen. I’ll be honest and tell you that I have yet not decided who I shall vote for. I think, however, that either is an excellent choice.