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Self-described “Super Volunteers” Karin Brennan and Gus Hawthorn worked with Flip the 49th! Neighbors in Action since early 2017. Their goal was to replace former Republican Representative Darrell Issa and elect a Democrat to represent California’s 49th Congressional District, which includes most of North County. Photo by Kelli Kyle
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Flip the 49th! Neighbors in Action plan for next steps

CARLSBAD — A few days after election night on a Saturday morning, the headquarters of Flip the 49! Neighbors in Action is strangely quiet.

“Super volunteers” Karin Brennan and Gus Hawthorn sit several feet away from each other at a large black table — they’re both fighting off a cold that the whole staff seemed to catch immediately after Tuesday’s excitement.

The quiet is a somewhat welcome change after what the two described as a very exhausting yet rewarding election cycle.

“I’ve never been around people that were as committed and worked as hard as they did in here for no pay,” Hawthorn said.

On Tuesday, Nov. 6, Flip the 49th! achieved the goal they set after the 2016 general election, nearly two years ago. The 49th Congressional District, which represents most of North County, went blue. Democrat Mike Levin won the House seat, receiving 55 percent of the vote. He gained around 21,000 more votes than his opponent, Republican Diane Harkey.

Republican Darrell Issa previously represented the 49th District — when he announced his retirement in January, Flip the 49th! kicked their efforts into overdrive to get a Democrat through the “jungle primaries” and onto the November ballot. They weren’t tied to any particular candidate in that phase, but when Mike Levin made it through, Flip the 49th! continued to push hard.

“For more than a year-and-a-half folks had been getting trained and doing all this work, and seeing it explode in the primary and continue to grow during the general — I know I was extremely confident with the results we would get,” Johnny Papagiannis, Flip the 49th! campaign manager, said.

The other challenge was to get people to actually vote. The group met 190 percent of its goal for number of volunteer shifts. It also exceeded its goal of yes votes for Levin — more than 18,000 people members talked to said they would vote for the Democrat.

From Del Mar Heights to Vista, Flip the 49th! volunteers knocked on doors all over North County, with the goal of reaching low-propensity and infrequent voters especially.

“Nothing is more powerful than you knowing that your neighbor is doing something, and that means that you should probably be doing it too,” Terra Lawson-Remer, lead strategist for Flip the 49th!, said.

Even though the election has passed, and the 49th has been flipped, the group wants to keep the “Neighbors in Action” piece of its name alive. Papagiannis said a group of active volunteers — including Hawthorn and Brennan — will hold a vision meeting in December to see what needs to be done next.

“It’s really grown into this community of folks that want to do more work locally — city councils, school boards, on the county board,” Papagiannis said.

Hawthorn said he wants to see the group do more to appeal to voters with no declared party.

“We don’t want to get those votes and then turn our backs on those people,” Hawthorn said. “I think we need to maintain a connection to them.”

Neighbors in Action also wants to energize the next generation of voters — those busy with their children and families, who may not have time to be politically involved. Brennan, now retired, remembers this energy-consuming part of her life well, but said the state of the country has changed.

“Our kids weren’t getting shot up in their schools,” Brennan said. “There’s a big reason to have a voice now and change the landscape so when the next generation has kids, they’re not worried about the same things.”

As they pursue next steps, members of Neighbors in Action want to stay connected to their grassroots origins. Almost all of the Flip the 49th! workforce was unpaid — many volunteers said this impacted how their message was received. Brennan said she wants to see that spirit kept alive with future initiatives.

“It’s one thing to be committed, but when you’re doing this for months, that’s what grassroots means,” Brennan said. “It’s the care for your community that’s driving you. All of us feel richer for this experience, because we now know what kind of people we’re living around.”

1 comment

Remenbering November 16, 2018 at 8:34 pm

Last summer “Super volunteer” Karin Brennan posted an attack on the Facebook timeline of one of Mr. Levin’s primary opponents impugning a combat zone veterans patriotism. The crime? Not supporting Mike Levin with enough enthusiasm to suit the taste of Ms. Breenan and the leadership of SEIU that funds the hybrid Super PAC known as Flip the 49th. It was one of the most offensive and tasteless posts in a campaign cycle that featured many. Though many are happy that Mr. Levin did win the election, the prospect of this organization remaining after its stated purpose has been fulfilled is indescribably depressing. Though Flip the 49th/Neighbors in Action/Indivisible 49 has leveraged the hard work of countless well-intentioned volunteers its funding and leadership live nowhere close to our communities. The mission of “Flipping the 49th” has been accomplished. It’s time for them to move on.

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