Fiona Ma for State Assembly
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Area Democrats celebrate Labor Day with picnic

Labor Day picnicking took on a political edge Monday as the Tri-Counties Central Labor Council along with the Working Blue Democratic Club of Ventura County held their second annual picnic at Freedom Park in Camarillo.

“We wanted to make sure working people had a strong voice in the Democratic Party,” said Jason Hodge, founder and chairman of the Working Blue Democratic Club. Hodge, who is a Ventura County firefighter and political director of the Ventura County Firefighters Association, is also running for a seat on the board of the Oxnard Harbor District. “I don’t want to ask people to get things done. I want to do them myself,” he said. “That way, I’m the only one I have to hold accountable.”

Hodge said he expected a turnout of some 500 people, though by noon, that number was closer to 300. The event ran from 11 a.m. until 3 p.m. and featured games and activities for kids, live music, food booths and dozens of politicians and their constituents celebrating what has traditionally been the official campaign kick-off time for election year politics.

“I came to bring some of that Democratic spirit down here,” said state Assembly Speaker Pro Tem Fiona Ma, D-San Francisco. The former CPA got interested in politics while lobbying for small businesses, eventually working in the Clinton White House for the Conference of Small Businesses.

Ma said though it is a tough year for Democrats, she believes that on general issues, her party still has a good chance. “History has taught us you can’t buy people’s votes,” she said. “So, we’re coming out and working for each and every vote by getting back to basics.”

Adrienne Rangel, a teacher at Adolfo Camarillo High School and Ventura County chapter chairwoman of the Tri-Counties Labor Council, agreed. “It’s a tough year for any politician,” she said. “But we’re going back to the whole theme of labor which is shoe leather, walking precincts and knocking on doors and phone banks, making phone calls,” she said. “That’s the genesis of any campaign.” The Labor Commission exists under the umbrella of the AFL-CIO.

In keeping with that theme, the picnic also featured a silent auction of items such as a pair of shoes signed by former Speaker of the California Assembly Willie Brown, and several antique phones signed by John Burton, chairman of the California Democratic Party.

“This is labor’s high holy day,” said David Sickler, Southern California regional director for the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California. “It’s to acknowledge those who helped build the middle class. Too many jobs have been outsourced,” Sickler said. “Good union jobs that have a pension and healthcare have been sent overseas.”

Sickler, who was the keynote speaker for the event, said union membership in the private sector has admittedly shrunk to about 8 percent nationwide. “It’s grown in the public sector, though,” he said.

“A lot of jobs have left that they say are never coming back,” said Assemblyman Pedro Nava, D-Santa Barbara, who will be termed out of office this fall. “I wanted to come out here and talk to folks in my district about issues facing working men and women,” he said.