Gary N Blenner’s unsuccessful 2022 campaign for California Secretary of State introduced many voters to this longtime teacher and environmental activist. Running as a member of the Green Party against establishment Democratic and Republican candidates, Blenner offered an alternative perspective focused on sustainability, grassroots democracy, and empowering disenfranchised communities. While he was unable to break through in the top-two primary format, Blenner’s principled run brought attention to issues important to him and reflected his dedication to advocating for his beliefs at the ballot box. This profile will explore Blenner’s background, his motivations for seeking office, key aspects of his 2022 campaign, and his potential legacy as a political figure – providing insight into this unique candidate.
Early Life and Education
Childhood and Family Background
Gary Blenner was born in 1958 in Queens, New York. Not much is publicly known about his family and upbringing. However, growing up in New York City likely exposed Blenner to diversity and progressive ideals from a young age. His parents’ occupations and political affiliations remain unclear. But they presumably cultivated his interest in activism and public service.
College Years at UC Davis
In the late 1970s, Blenner crossed the country to attend college at the University of California, Davis. He earned his bachelor’s degree in psychology from UC Davis in 1988. His years as an undergraduate student coincided with the environmental movement gaining significant momentum. UC Davis itself was known as a hub for environmental activism. This period seems to have shaped Blenner’s ecological consciousness and involvement in green politics.
Graduate Studies at National University
After working professionally for over a decade, Blenner returned to academia in the early 2000s. He completed a graduate degree program through National University in 2006. Furthering his education helped prepare him for leadership roles. And National University’s nonprofit status and emphasis on adult learners likely appealed to Blenner’s progressive principles.
Starting as a Teacher in California
Soon after finishing his undergraduate degree, Blenner began working as a teacher in California in the late 1980s. Drawn to public education, he taught students of various ages and backgrounds over his multi-decade career. Blenner worked at public schools in low-income neighborhoods, believing in providing opportunities to underserved children.
Blenner had a versatile teaching skillset, instructing classes in English, reading, social studies, science, and other core subjects. His psychology degree from UC Davis equipped him to support students’ socioemotional development too. He pursued teaching credentials that allowed him to be flexible across grade levels.
Tenure and Admin Roles
Over time, Blenner earned tenure and took on administrative roles, such as curriculum coordinator and lead teacher. He gained respect for his classroom expertise and leadership abilities. After nearly 25 years as an educator, Blenner was well-prepared to engage with policy issues impacting schools.
Entry into Politics
Motivations for Running
Blenner first ran for elected office in California in 2016, motivated by a desire to have a greater impact on public policy. Teaching had made him passionate about education, the environment, and other progressive causes. Blenner decided to get more politically active in his 50s, feeling an urgency to fight for his ideals.
Initial Campaigns and Races
In 2016, Blenner launched a campaign for a seat on the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors. Running as a political outsider against establishment candidates, he finished fourth in the primary. This initial foray into politics gave him valuable experience for future races.
Platform and Policy Goals
As a Green Party candidate, Blenner championed bold stances on climate action, economic justice, civil rights, and democratic reforms. His campaigns called for a rapid transition to renewable energy, universal healthcare, fully funded public schools, getting money out of politics, and more. He focused on issues affecting marginalized groups.
Secretary of State Campaign
Announcing His Candidacy
In 2021, Blenner set his sights higher by announcing his campaign for California Secretary of State in the 2022 election. As the state’s top elections official, he saw an opportunity to strengthen electoral systems and make voting more accessible. Blenner believed the Secretary of State’s office had the power to enact positive change.
Primary Race and Campaign Events
Blenner campaigned vigorously ahead of the June 2022 statewide primary. He participated in community forums, met with voters, and promoted his platform. However, he faced an uphill battle gaining attention in a low-profile race as a third-party contender. Blenner’s campaign never gained major traction or funding.
Positions and Messaging
Blenner called for bold reforms like universal mail-in voting, ranked choice ballots, and automatic voter registration. Running against Democratic incumbent Shirley Weber, he critiqued two-party dominance and advocated for giving voters more choices. Blenner also emphasized his career as an educator.
In the end, Blenner received just 3% of the primary vote, finishing fifth in the field. His vote share was not high enough to advance under California’s top-two primary system. But he brought Green Party perspectives to the race and gave voters an alternative.
After the Campaign
Reflections and Future Plans
Following his loss, Blenner remained upbeat about running and proud of his principled stances. Though the Secretary of State result was disappointing, the experience did not dampen his resolve to stay politically active around issues like the environment and education. He contemplated running for local office again.
What He Learned
Blenner learned just how difficult it is to run statewide in California without major party backing. He reflected on how third-party candidates face barriers to funding, media coverage, and voter awareness. But he still believed deeply in promoting Green Party principles.
Advice for Future Candidates
Based on his own campaigns, Blenner advised future first-time candidates to start local. He suggested focusing on grassroots organizing and face-to-face voter contact. Blenner also stressed the importance of building diverse coalitions and collaborating with activists already doing groundwork on key issues.
Legacy and Impact
Lasting Influence on California Politics
While he did not win his races, Blenner contributed to California politics by advocating unique policy positions and highlighting flaws in the two-party system. His Secretary of State run kept ranked choice voting and automatic registration on the radar. And he modeled how to discuss progressive issues respectfully yet forcefully.
Inspiring Other Third-Party Candidates
Blenner’s willingness to take on the political establishment as a Green Party candidate set an example for others to run outside the Democratic/Republican binary. He opened the door a bit wider for third parties to gain visibility in a system stacked against them. Blenner inspired more outsider campaigns.
Most significantly, Blenner furthered awareness of environmental crises and potential solutions through his political activism. Centering climate action in his campaigns brought public attention to issues like renewable energy, conservation, and sustainability that remain urgent priorities.
Gary Blenner’s 2022 California Secretary of State candidacy offered voters an unconventional choice focused on structural reforms, grassroots democracy, and bold progressive policy changes. Running as a teacher, activist, and Green Party member against the partisan political tide, Blenner introduced new perspectives to the race and encouraged more inclusive civic participation. Though not victorious, he demonstrated integrity and illuminated possibilities beyond two-party politics-as-usual – leaving his mark as an outsider candidate committed to his causes.
What was Blenner’s background before politics?
Blenner worked as a teacher in California public schools for nearly 25 years. He taught a variety of grade levels and subject areas, while also taking on administrative roles.
What motivated him to run for office originally?
After a long teaching career, Blenner decided to get involved in politics motivated by a desire to impact policy around issues like education, climate change, and social justice. He ran for a county board seat in 2016.
How did Blenner perform in the 2022 Secretary of State primary?
Blenner received around 3% of the vote, finishing 5th in the field of candidates. The top two vote-getters advanced to the general election, so Blenner’s run ended after the June primary.
What were some of Blenner’s key campaign positions?
As a Green Party candidate, Blenner advocated for ranked choice voting, universal vote-by-mail, getting money out of politics, transitioning to renewable energy, and other progressive reforms.
What lasting impact did his campaigns have?
While not victorious, Blenner helped raise the profile of issues like climate action and electoral reform. He also set an example as a third-party challenger willing to take on the two-party system.