Antonio López, a first-year Ph.D. student in modern thought and literature and newly elected East Palo Alto city councilmember, and Forest Peterson M.S. ’07 ENGR ’15 Ph.D. ’20, a postdoctoral fellow in civil engineering, are among Stanford affiliates running to be Assembly District Delegates (ADDs) in this year’s Assembly District Election Meetings (ADEM) elections. If elected, López, Peterson and 12 other winning candidates from Assembly District 24 will influence the direction of the California Democratic Party by voting on resolutions, electing leadership, informing endorsements and directly impacting the party platform.
López and Peterson are joined on their slate, the North Star Progressive Democrats, by Mountain View city councilmember Sally Lieber ’00, chair of the Palo Alto Planning and Transportation Commission Cari Templeton M.A. ’17 and former Stegner Fellow Essy Stone, along with nine other candidates.
14 ADDs — seven of whom must be self-identified females and seven who are not — in each California district are elected in ADEMs, which occur every two years. Though candidates may run with a slate, voters select candidates individually. Due to COVID-19, voting is taking place by mail this year. Voters, who could request mail-in ballots until January 11, now have until January 27 to return them.
Members of the North Star Progressive Democrats are among 42 candidates vying for the 14 seats in Assembly District 24, which encompasses Stanford.
Peterson is particularly energized by the prospect of representing the Stanford community. One of the founding members of SCOPE 2035, a student activist group focused on housing equity, he aspires to fight for the interests of Stanford workers, many of whom do not live in the district due to a lack of affordable housing.
“At Stanford University, as far as I know, we haven’t elected a delegate so to speak,” Peterson said. “I happen to be somebody that does live near campus. I am in this district. And so I can be the voice for the workers at Stanford.”
The slate has five main priorities: equitable COVID recovery; justice and equity; human rights; democracy, inclusion, representation and empowerment; and climate emergency. Its members, who have coalesced around shared progressive values, have varying degrees of political experience. Some, like López, are newly elected to local government. Others, like Lieber, have been entrenched in local politics for years.
Lieber began her political career when she was first elected to the Mountain View city council as a 37 year-old Stanford senior. She was again elected to the city council this fall and has also served as mayor of Mountain View, a county commissioner, and for three terms in the State Assembly. She has also been an ADD.
Lieber believes that the ADEMs are essential to showing community members that they have “table stakes in the Democratic Party.” Voters are eager for political transformation, she said, especially in terms of issues like environmental accountability, student debt relief and universal basic income, among others.
“This is an opportunity to move our state Democratic Party in a more progressive direction,” Lieber said. “We’re a progressive, grassroots slate who each have experience in our own domains.”
In addition to electing 14 ADDs, each California district will also elect an Executive Board (E-Board) member, who represents their community at E-Board meetings. Each ADD candidate indicates whether they want to serve as E-Board representative, and the position goes to the overall top vote getter in each district, provided that they are willing to fulfill the role. E-Board members meet more frequently and are responsible for conducting party business that occurs between the conventions in which all ADDs participate. In presidential election years, this includes electing members to the Democratic National Committee. Lieber and Democratic activist Steve Chessin are the only North Star Progressive Democrats running for the E-Board position.
Templeton, who worked at Google for over a decade before earning her master’s degree at Stanford, is no stranger to this process.
Templeton first ran to be an ADD in 2017, when she was the first runner-up but was later able to participate after one of the district’s seven female delegates moved. She ran again in 2019 and was defeated, but was ultimately appointed by assemblymember Marc Berman. Templeton was also a Bernie Sanders delegate at the 2020 Democratic National Convention, where she cast protest votes in support of the Green New Deal and Medicare for All.
“I’m really excited to be running again,” Templeton said. “Our district is so lucky to have so many really great, qualified people that want to run, so it’s always competitive here.”
If elected, Templeton hopes to push for the slate’s priorities by supporting Medicare for All, the Green New Deal, housing equity and the abolition of ICE. One of the most powerful aspects of being an ADD, Templeton believes, is one’s ability to have a statewide and even a national impact. Building local networks and starting conversations, she said, is ultimately what leads to concrete change.
López, too, believes that as an ADD, he can use local experiences to influence policies statewide. As an East Palo Alto city councilmember, he is keenly aware of the challenges that so many communities, particularly low-income communities and communities of color, are currently facing. By voicing his ideas with ADDs and party leaders, he strives to be a champion for similar communities across the state.
Additionally, López hopes to be an agent of change by sharing Stanford’s wealth of knowledge and resources. He considers Stanford a “crucial partner and stakeholder,” especially in the wake of COVID-19. In his role as city councilmember, López recently collaborated with a Stanford doctor who helped him create an informative video to combat vaccine misinformation.
“Just being immersed in this amazing, powerful environment of education is only going to enhance my ability to facilitate important change,” López said.
At Stanford and beyond, López has encountered young people who are disappointed with mainstream politics. When progressive leaders like representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) are met with opposition by party establishment, López said, this signals to young progressives that the “party is business as usual. They’re neoliberal, they’re concerned with mainstream politics and not the ideas of the vast majority of the people.”
But he urged the disillusioned not to give up.
“I invite people to have hope that we can reform the Democratic Party,” López said. “That they aren’t just the party of corporate politics and the big wigs and of the wealthy, but they can be a party of the people. And that is exactly the mission and values that we bring to the table.”