Alamedans Led the Battle Against Trump

Helmed by longtime Island resident Doug Linney, the group Flip the 14 helped Democrats win seven GOP-controlled House seats in California and a majority in Congress.


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Doug Linney says the work isn’t done as long as Trump is in office.

Photo by Lance Yamamoto

The sight of passionate people marching in the streets during the first Women’s March in early 2017, protesting the election and policies of President Trump, convinced Doug Linney that there must be a way to harness the massive amount of energy on the streets into a movement at the ballot box.

Linney, a longtime Alameda resident and political consultant, believed the best way to counteract Trump’s policies was to focus energy on helping Democrats regain control of the U.S. House of Representatives. He was joined in the effort by several politicos with strong ties to Alameda, including Assemblymember Rob Bonta, former State Senate Pro Tem Don Perata, and Councilmember Jim Oddie.

The group formed Flip the 14, a grassroots effort seeking to turn California’s 14 Republican congressional districts from red to blue, even though most of the battleground districts were far from the Island — the closest being the 10th District, an hour away in Tracy and Modesto. And Flip the 14 had historic success, helping win seven of the 14 Republican-held seats and handing Democrats a commanding majority in the House.

“I was looking for a way to channel my energy after the Women’s March, in particular,” said Linney, who is also an environmentalist and longtime member of the East Bay Municipal Utility District Board of Directors. “There’s hundreds of thousands of people coming out in California. I’m an electoral guy, I look at all these people and say, ‘We got to channel that into electoral activities here.’”

Other groups had similar ideas, some national, some statewide. Fight Back California, a group formed by ex-East Bay Rep. Ellen Tauscher focused just on flipping the seven Republican-controlled seats in California that Hillary Clinton won in 2016. It formed after Flip the 14, as did another named Red to Blue. Nationally, progressive grassroots groups like Swing Left had similar interests in California. But “there was nobody that was really focused just on all of California in the way I thought could be effective,” Linney said. “I’ve never been big on marches. Maybe you get some TV coverage and everyone is going to feel good for coming there, but it really doesn’t move the needle in any way. Instead of coming out for four hours at a march, why don’t you come out for four hours and make phone calls or knock on doors and let’s turn this thing around. We have to flip Congress. This is the only way we’re going to bring accountability to Trump.”

Linney wasn’t the only one noticing a need for Democrats to win the House in order to put the brakes on Trump. People concerned about the president were also coming to Perata, Bonta, and Oddie with similar questions. “There was a lot of people who were stopping us and saying, ‘What can we do? How can we help,’ and we had no good answer at that time,” Oddie said. “There was so many people that wanted to do something, anything, but there wasn’t an organized structure within the party or county or anywhere so we could corral that energy.”

Once a strategy was in place, the process of moving Flip the 14 from concept to reality was greatly boosted by Bonta’s first $5,000 contribution to the committee. Linney said Bonta’s help was critical in paying early startup bills. But more than purchasing power, Bonta’s support was also a signal to others to financially back Flip the 14. Bonta would later contribute another $5,000 to the cause.

Flip the 14 was different from the others groups because it targeted what Linney calls, “mid-term skippers,” voters who typically turn out for presidential elections but avoid mid-term elections. The strategy paid large dividends on Nov. 6 when liberal voters’ angst and enthusiasm resulted in high turnout for the mid-term election in California and across the country. “Our analysis of the 14 races was that we could win if we got Democrats to the polls. It becomes a turnout game, whereas in a presidential race where 80 percent of people vote, it’s a game of persuasion,” Linney said. Enthused volunteers did field work, knocked on doors, called prospective voters, and utilized the political tool du jour in 2018 — texting.

Another strategic move was to avoid picking winners in the primaries. “We went to all of the 14 districts and said, ‘We’re going to see which candidates emerge and see if they are viable,” Linney added. Most who emerged from the primaries, were indeed viable. The November blue wave pushed Democrats to win a total of 40 seats in Congress, including the seven victories in California. “We were very happy with it. I was hoping we could do more,” Linney said. “But I’m not sure what we were expecting.”

Of course, he wanted more wins. He was particularly bothered by the inability to stop the re-election of embattled GOP Southern California Rep. Duncan Hunter. “He’s indicted. There’s a trial date set for him,” Linney said incredulously, referring to the corruption charges filed against Hunter.

Power for Flip the 14 also came from the exuberance in deep blue districts in the East Bay, Greater Bay Area, and Los Angeles, where Democratic incumbents were virtually assured to be re-elected and liberal voters were left wondering how to help the cause nationally. “I can vote for Barbara Lee or register voters in her district, but that isn’t going to change anything,” Linney noted. Opportunities for local activists were presented in the form of house parties, postcard parties, and phone banking to assist Flip the 14.

The local grassroots group, All Rise Alameda, also did its part in helping Flip the 14, particularly in the 10th Congressional District. The all-inclusive, but mostly female group traveled every month to Tracy to canvass, said Mary Claire Neumann, a member of All Rise Alameda. The group plans to continue its efforts through November 2020. “This is about building long-term, grassroots organizing,” Neumann said.

“They’re going to learn, ‘Nevertheless, she persisted,’ ” she said of Republicans.

Linney grew up in San Jose, moved to Alameda in 1984, and entered the political realm two years later, running Perata’s campaign for Alameda County supervisor. But much of his early advocacy work focused on the environment. In 2000, he was elected to the East Bay MUD board.

Linney is perhaps best known for being one of the East Bay’s top political strategists. While helping run Flip the 14 last year, he also consulted on Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft’s winning mayoral campaign over incumbent Trish Herrera Spencer.

So what’s next for Flip the 14? It isn’t going away, Linney said, although a rebranding is likely with just seven remaining Republican congressional seats to be had in 2020. The group is also eyeing an expansion to other states, perhaps, “Flip the West,” Linney said. The group might expand to congressional districts in Arizona, Colorado, Montana, and Texas, in addition to the seven remaining California seats.

“Can we export the power that we saw in this election to other states, or is that just too much of a reach?” Linney said. “But this is not done. I feel like as long as Trump is in office, it’s not done.”

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