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SLO progressive Democrats vie for party's future

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Fresh off her victory in a close race for SLO city Mayor, Heidi Harmon and a slate of self-styled progressives are seeking election delegates to the state's Democratic Party.

Harmon was one of 14 candidates running for the delegate positions under a "SLO Progressive Slate," some of whom gathered outside the Fremont Theater Jan. 3 to make the case for why they should be selected to represent SLO County's Democrats at the state level. If elected as delegates, the 14 members would have a say in shaping the party's rules, platforms, leadership, and endorsements.

"What this would allow us to do is have a more progressive message in terms of the rules the party comes up with and the platform the party advocates for," Harmon said.

Many of the delegates are part of the SLO County Progressives Democratic Club, an organization formed by former local volunteers for the 2016 presidential primary candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vermont). Many of the 14 candidates on the progressive slate supported or acted as delegates for the Sanders campaign during the election. 

In the wake of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton's general election defeat, the message of Sanders, a self-proclaimed Democratic socialist who rallied populist support with a platform focused economic and social justice, continues to inspire left-leaning progressives, including many of those on the SLO Progressive Slate.

"It really resonates with me and a lot of other people," Harmon said. "They recognized in [Sanders] someone who is truly putting people first."

Not every candidate on the slate was born from the ashes of Sanders' primary campaign. Erick Baskin, a longtime resident and former president of the SLO City Firefighter's Union Local 3523, said he jumped at the chance when asked by Harmon and others to run as a delegate.

"Being a progressive myself, it was an easy choice," said Baskin, whose union supported Harmon's mayoral run. "I think it's time for some change in our local political scene. ... I've been here for 20 years, and it's been so insulated and quiet."

Some of the other candidates on the slate include Sherri Stoddard, regional director of the California Nurses' Association and Sanders' delegate; Violet Cavanaugh, vice chair of the Northern Chumash Tribal Council; and Giacomo Longato, a naturalized U.S. citizen and member of SLO Democratic Progressives Club.

Voting for the delegate positions is open to any registered Democrat living in California's 35th Assembly District, and will take place Jan. 7 at 10:30 a.m. in the IBEW Local 639 hall at 6363 Edna Road. 

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