David Cushman sees Manteca — and San Joaquin County as a whole — as the Ohio of California politics.
It is here where conservative and liberal views battle for dominance as some of the state’s most competitive districts can be found on both the federal and state level.
This is where almost every issue under the sun in California is in full play. Development collides with agriculture. The paycheck rich and housing challenged Bay Area creates valley communities with residents facing long commutes and soaring housing costs. It is also where water is the reigning issue as the struggle between big city users, mega farm interests in the Southern San Joaquin Valley, environmental activists, and even a strong sports fishing lobby imperils the developed water interests of Northern San Joaquin Valley residents and farmers alike.
For the 26-year-old Cushman, this is the place to be. And that’s not just because this is his hometown where he grew up working in his parents’ David and Sylvia’s restaurant and where he and his wife Genevie (Romo) plan to raise a family. This is also the ideal place for Cushman to sharpen his skills for his dream career — that as a campaign consultant.
“I want to have an impact on addressing concerns,” Cushman said.
And that doesn’t mean the 2010 Manteca High graduate with a degree in political science from California State University Stanislaus in Turlock has to be in elected office.
Cushman said just “being part of something bigger than me” by working behind the scenes is satisfying.
In 2016 as a 23-year-old, he was the youngest candidate to ever seen election to the Manteca City Council. He lost that election and hasn’t ruled out a future run.
But since that defeat he managed to be part of “something bigger” more than a couple of times including a stint as the paid statewide volunteer coordinator for the John Cox gubernatorial campaign and is now on the paid staff for both the Ted Howze campaign for Congress in 2020 and San Joaquin County Supervisor Bob Elliott’s bid for the State Senate in 2020.
Arguably his biggest success to date was serving as Ben Cantu’s first ever campaign manager. Cushman helped parlay Cantu’s fifth bid to gain elective office into winning the Manteca’s mayor’s post after four unsuccessful elections — twice for mayor and twice for the council.
Cushman stresses the point that Cantu got himself elected. But that doesn’t give enough credit to his role in organizing a grassroots movement of 50 volunteers as well as engineering a multi-faceted media showing across social and traditional platforms.
Cushman continues to work non-paid as Cantu’s communications director handling social media efforts as well as uploading videos to Facebook of various endeavors Cantu has tackled including his first State of the City address in February.
It is the first time any elected official in Manteca has someone working with them to coordinate communications.
Cushman said it is important for people to be able to connect with their representatives in various ways whether it is in person, via social media or responding to inquiries by phone or e-mail.
And although his political views are conservative and he’s a registered Republican — just like Cantu — he has no problem reaching out and sitting down with others holding diametrically opposite views to debate issues and trying to find a common ground.
Cantu, as an example, listened intently to the concerns of various groups such as the Manteca Democratic Club. In doing so he did not dance around the issues but was clear on what he wanted to do. At the same time Cushman noted Cantu took to heart the views that were expressed to him.
Cushman’s interest in politics was encouraged by his parents.
“I’ve always loved history,” Cushman said.
His parents bought him books on the presidents when he was in kindergarten and first grade.
Cantu was involved with student leadership at Manteca High. After graduating he became an active member of the Manteca TEA Party at age 19 and ended up serving as its president when he was 22. They conducted monthly forums that were in line with the fact that while they were conservative they were non-partisan. Cushman noted that some of the most engaging exchanges for guest speakers and attendees alike where when liberal leaning guests such as one of his CSU political science professors were in attendance.
Earlier this month Cushman gained election to the presidency of the San Joaquin Conservative Republicans. The group’s goal is to mobilize conservatives in San Joaquin County and elected Republicans at every level of government in the area.
“The average person doesn’t think about politics 24/7,” Cushman noted.
That said Cushman pointed out that politics at every level effect things that matter the most to people — their families and the economy.
“It really does affect people when decisions are made in Washington, Sacramento or the City Council,” Cushman said. “It affects them on a personal level. Elections do have consequences.”
Cushman understands that better than anyone. A native of Manteca, Cushman and his wife — also a Manteca High grad — wanted to live in Manteca after they were married so they could build a life and raise a family.
But just like other 20-somethings who graduate high school in Manteca that want to put their roots down where they grew up they have found out it is not an easy challenge to be able to afford housing here on the salary of most available jobs. It is why his wife commutes to Berkeley.
Cushman augments what he earns as a campaign strategist — his first paying job in the field was with Dauntless Communications out of Roseville — by working part-time at the Panda Express near Highway 99.
He said the struggles they are experiencing is a reflection of the same challenges of countless others across the socio-economic and political spectrums. That helps powers his determination to use politics as a vehicle to find — and implement — workable solutions to strengthen the economy and improve the overall quality of life.
He eschews the term “political consultant” as well as “politician” due to the negative connotations. That said he firmly believes the political process — as it has been since the dawn of a republic — is the best vehicle for securing a better life for people.
Things such as treated water as well as streets, wastewater treatment, fire and police protection would not exist if community members didn’t delve into politics with the intent of providing things for the common good that individuals cannot secure on their own.
“Don’t be afraid to stand up and voice your opinion,” Cushman said as advice to people his age and younger.
He also urged people to participate in the process to work for what they believe in.
“If you want to get things done you have to be willing (to work for what you want),” Cushman said.
Cushman is also an active member of the Manteca Kiwanis whose community service projects included the recent free community egg hunt.
To contact Dennis Wyatt, email email@example.com