Bulletin Editor
Don Shoecraft


One Man's Journey to Trump Heartland and What He Learned About Blue Counties That Flipped Red

Joe Simitian

Member, Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors

Former member, California Assembly and Senate

Walt McCullough’s introduction identified Mr. Simitian as the Fifth District supervisor representing Palo Alto, Mountain View, Cupertino, Stanford, Los Altos, Los Altos Hills and Saratoga. He was elected in 2016 by an 89.4 percent vote of constituents.

We — meaning Peninsula Rotarians and people who live roughly in the area he represents — “live in a bubble within a bubble within a bubble,” he began.

Forty-six percent of Americans voted for Donald Trump for President in 2016. His support in California was 32 percent. In San Mateo County it was 18 percent. In Palo Alto, which he once served as mayor, it was 12 percent. “A bubble in a bubble in a bubble.”
The stereotypical Trump supporter was racist, sexist, xenophobic and homophobic, but Mr. Simitian didn’t buy the stereotype. He admitted he didn’t understand the dynamic at work, so he picked out three heavily Democratic counties that either flipped completely for Trump in 2016 or went deep red, Cambria in Pennsylvania, Macomb in Michigan and Robeson in No. Carolina. He traveled to each to meet voters, to ask them face-to-face what made them switch, perhaps to learn a lesson.

Robeson No. Carolina is a poor county with 5-to-one Democratic voter registration over Republican. Fifty-eight percent of Robeson voters went for Obama in 2012, 51 percent went for Trump in 2016. Cambria County Pennsylvania is not a Democratic county but Obama won 41 percent of the vote there in 2012; Clinton lost 25 percent of those voters to Trump in 2016.

Macomb County Michigan doesn’t fit the image of an economically depressed area hit by off-shoring and factory closings. It’s somewhat prosperous with automobile plants still operating and unemployment at 6 percent. The county went for Obama two-to-one in 2012 and flipped for Trump by double digits in 2016.

Nationwide, Simitian said, somewhere between 6 and 10 million voters flipped in 2016.

“It was a big deal,” he said. To find out what was going on, “I invited myself to town…to listen, to learn and try to understand what happened.”

Though he expected otherwise, he did not hear people raise issues about terrorism, President Obama, social issues or immigration.

“I heard about Hillary Clinton, over and over and over,” he said.

He met a small town mayor in Pennsylvania, a Democrat, educated at Johns Hopkins, who voted for Trump. He asked why? “I’d vote for Joseph Stalin,” the man said, ‘before I’d vote for Hillary Clinton for president.”

“I was,” Simitian said, “unprepared.”

The refrain was, “the emails, Benghazi, the Foundation, emails, Benghazi, Foundation,” he said. He heard lots of personal slander about Clinton: “I even had one woman use a word I’d never heard before, ‘snooty-hooty,’ so that was new.

“Gender was a problem. It came in a lot of different shapes and sizes from men and from women.”

Some said she only stayed with Bill Clinton after the Monica Lewinsky affair to advance her career.

Some men said they just didn’t believe a woman should have such power.

Evangelical Christians even quoted the Bible, saying it said President wasn’t a role for a woman.

“It was a clear and repetitive conversation,” he said. “There was an enthusiasm gap.”

Then there were the “sign wars.”

He saw Trump signs everywhere, and where people couldn’t get a lawn sign they’d make their own. “They painted their barns, hay bales and almost anything with Trump signs.” He asked a Republican operative how many Clinton signs were up compared to Trump’s. “About 200 to 1,” she answered.

To corroborate, he asked a Clinton supporter if that sounded right. The man pondered, then said, “I’m not sure a saw a Hillary sign. Oh, I did see one. It said, ‘Hillary for Prison.’”

The sign war proved a boon to the Trump campaign. “People would call and ask for a sign and the campaign would say, ‘We don’t have any right now, but if you’ll give us your name, address, telephone number and email we’ll let you know when they come in.”

On the appointed day the campaign summoned the crowd, notified the press and made a big show of giving away 3,000 signs — in a town of 25,000 population.

Anti-Democratic feeling in these former Democratic bastions was focused on the national Democratic Party, which, it was felt, was elitist, remote and out of touch with voters’ problems. “There were no kind words for the Democratic Party,” Simitian said.

“A lot had to do with language. In Cambria County every school closed the Monday after Thanksgiving. I could understand closing the Friday after Thanksgiving, but Monday after Thanksgiving? I was told, ‘It’s the first day of deer hunting season.’ It wouldn’t have made any sense to have school the Monday after Thanksgiving anyway because people would be out deer hunting.”

He was told his attitude was typical of elitist Democrats: ‘You folks talk about gun control and you don’t understand our community culture.’

“I decided I didn’t want to share that in Palo Alto we take off ski week.”

The upshot was that “people didn’t deny Trump’s flaws, they dismissed them.”

He quoted Thoreau, 'The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation,' to point out that, while the people with whom he spoke were desperate, “they weren’t going to be quiet.”

He told of textile mills closing, creating dead zones in the center of formerly thriving communities, of coal mines shutting, of late middle-aged workers cut out of factory jobs forced to work for half their former pay in menial jobs, having lost careers and even their pensions.

“This isn’t new. All three places had had to deal with long-standing economic desperation. They’d waited a long time. The cavalry hadn’t come.”

He’d been well received in most places, though he made sure he identified himself as a Democrat from California as he began his interrogatories. But one prominent Republican operative in Pennsylvania, a woman, refused for some time to take his call no matter how he tried to approach. After much begging and pleading he got through and asked why she wouldn’t speak to him.

The cursing and shouting on the other end made him take the phone away from his ear.

“I apologize in advance for the language but I think it’s important” for the context to be exact, he said.

“She said, ‘Silicon Valley didn’t give a shit about North Carolina for 50 years and I have no reason to believe it’ll be any different now.”

All-in-all, however, “the people I talked to were not partisan” and had legitimate issues that voters on both coasts simply did not understand, but that the national Republican Party picked up on quickly.

That said, there must be, he said, an inter-mural debate where national parties listen and finally take some action on issues that are still raw and festering.

He said education is one key to moving up left-behind counties economically. Other action is up to each community, to governments and ultimately to whomever is in the White House.

His parting words were “whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican, are you listening to these people? Listening is the ultimate act of respect.”




Bernie Mellot








President BB: “Keep your thoughts positive because your thoughts become your words. Keep your words positive because your words become your behavior. Keep your behavior positive because your behavior becomes your habits. Keep your habits positive because your habits become your values. Keep your values positive because your values become your destiny.” —Mahatma Gandhi



Skip Howie introduced Father Jim Fleming



Martin Harband

Something old, something new: Blonde woman in a red sports car stopped for speeding. Cop turns out to also be a blonde. “May I see your license?” “What’s it look like?” asks driver. “It’s square and has your picture on it.” Driver rummages through purse and comes up with a compact mirror, hands it to the blonde cop. Cop looks at it, gives it back. “You can go,” she says. “I didn’t know you were a cop.”

Queen Elizabeth and Stormy Daniels go to heaven. The punchline’s another reason to attend meetings.



Cheryl Angeles (also garbed for the Summer of Love) reports that Bob Binn’s wife, Linnell, had been hospitalized for a circulation problem and would appreciate members’ thoughts and support.

Kristen Jensen’s daughter, who was severely injured in an accident, is not doing well, on top of which Kristen has had major back surgery.


Visiting Rotarians

Welcome Rob Lajoie of San Mateo Sunrise and Peninsula Family Services, and Heidi Hall, who is an IT consultant from the Pleasanton, CA club.



Spinnings hopes all enjoyed the Burger IM grad opening last Friday; many Rotarians enjoyed the ribbon cutting and hors d’oeuvres to support one of Rotary’s causes, the San Mateo Police Activities League, which reaped the benefit of 10 percent of proceeds on the night.


Summer of Lovers

The the cool Paul Rogerville, rainbow-hued Dick Bennett, hot Cheryl Angeles and Storkzilla’s Fonzied Dave Bennett remind that all Rotarians and guests are invited to revisit the Summer of Love at Dave and Nancee Bennett’s home in Hillsborough Saturday, Oct. 13 from 3 to 7 p.m. There’ll be live music (Dave’s fabulous band, including horns) food, dancing and camaraderie. All you have to do is sign up. Sheets will be available at meetings or you can just inform any of the committee persons personally.



Drew Corbett (what a name; if only he had a slouch fedora and a flat foot he’d have his own TV series), Assistant City Manager and Finance Director for the City of San Mateo was presented his permanent badge by John de Russy, coincidentally (not), the long-retired finance director for the city. Drew previously worked in Sunnyvale and Menlo Park; his wife is an assistant district attorney for the County of Santa Clara.



Carey Gorgolinski seemed to kind of apologize for the “healthy” carrot cake, but there was enough sugar in the frosting to hold Mike Peterson for at least two hours.




Fun Run

Fast approaching. Sunday, Oct. 21.

The annual San Mateo Rotary Club Scholarship 5K/10K Fun Run helps many of San Mateo’s deserving students pursue their educational dreams. Now in its 10th year, the Seal Point Park/Bay Trail Run has raised over $160,000 for community college and four-year college scholarships — the majority of it through sponsorships — and last year was our biggest yet! To sign up or donate a sponsorship, go to our web page at and click on “Annual Events” in the main menu or visit the Facebook page at sanmateorotaryfunrun.


Balancing Bruce’s Books

Having already penalized most of San Mateo’s ‘Movers and Shakers,’ whose photos adorned the new Chamber of Commerce directory, PBB (no J) shined the spot on one he'd missed, Dennis Thomas, who, too self-effacing (Dennis? Thomas?), modestly yielded the microphone to Margaret Taylor, who voiced a paean so broad and laudatory it could only end in a fine.


Curiodyssey Burlingame/San Mateo Rotary Cocktail Party

Host Rachel Meyer, whom we thank for also being a Spinner who has done yeoman’s work bringing you your weekly newsletter, is hosting a party and mixer for the two clubs Wednesday, Sept. 26, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the science and wildlife center, 1651 Coyote Point Drive.

Respond to your Evite or contact Rachel directly.


In spite of it all, still oddly curious.

— DS             



President Bruce Bean
Upcoming Speakers
Aug 23, 2018
'Ranger Road' Veterans Support Charity
Aug 30, 2018
The SMART Program
Sep 06, 2018
Metropolitan Transportation Commission
Oct 18, 2018
Govern for California
Oct 25, 2018
Building Resilience to Catastrophic Events, Including Climate Change
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