Cat Herding and Loathing at the California Democratic State Convention

by on May 23, 2017 · 0 comments

in California

Incoming Democratic Officers via Kevin de Leon on twitter

By Doug Porter

Democrats gathered in Sacramento this past weekend for their annual convention, and there were–surprise, surprise–disagreements. Based on the angst woven into some news accounts of the event, you’d think some of these writers had never heard the comparison made between organizing Dems and herding cats.

Foremost among the hand-wringing coverage were stories about the competition for chair of the California Democratic Party. Kimberly Ellis, widely considered to be an insurgent candidate symbolizing the aspirations of the Bernie Sanders wing of the party, lost to Eric Bauman, Male Vice Chair and Los Angeles County Democratic Party Chair, by 62 votes.

Ellis may have lost the vote, but as Los Angeles Times reporter Cathleen Decker noted, a significant generational shift took place, with the party’s traditional leadership displaced by a new, more activist vision.

To outsiders, they were the West Coast liberals whom conservatives love to hate — stereotyped as chardonnay-sipping, tree-hugging, near-socialists who, were it geologically possible, would push the state so far left it would plunk into the Pacific. In truth, they have exerted a moderating force on Democrats here.

Their reign effectively ended at this weekend’s state party convention, part of a shift both generational and ideological that is altering power across the country and in the nation’s biggest Democratic state. Whoever fills the vacuum will answer defining questions: How far left will the California Democratic Party now go? Will its movement backfire?

Gov. Jerry Brown and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, ages 79 and 83, respectively, didn’t show up at the convention. Former Sen. Barbara Boxer, 76, who left office in January, skipped it as well. State party chief John Burton, 84, was heralded in large part because he was leaving for retirement.

The activist insurgency was, at times, loud and boisterous. Welcoming speeches on Friday night were interrupted by protesters demanding universal health care and chanting “Hey hey, ho ho, corporate Dems have got to go.”

Outgoing Party Chair John Burton singled out a demonstrator carrying a sign advocating for universal health care, saying “Put your fucking sign down, man. We’re all for it.”

Burton and various elected representatives pushed back against a resolution endorsing a quicker path to impeachment proceedings for President Donald Trump.


Kimberly Ellis, candidate for CDP Chair, addresses #CADEM17 delegates via CA Democratic Party

From the Sacramento Bee:

“Grass-roots Democrats and our representatives in Congress share the same view that Donald Trump is incompetent and dangerous,” said Rose Kapolczynski, a veteran Democratic strategist from Los Angeles.

“The difference might be one of the reality of what impeachment takes: We have a Republican-controlled House and a Republican-controlled Senate, and that is the body that brings impeachment changes and tries them.

“It isn’t something that we can accomplish by signing petitions.”

Viewing the differences aired at the party convention as being strictly Bernie supporters vs. the establishment or even a generational struggle needs to be tempered by understanding an older and often overlooked division in California politics: North vs South.

Santa Barbara Democratic activist David Atkins, a Sanders supporter who voted for Eric Bauman, explained the geographic split in a post at Daily Kos:

To understand what actually happened in the battle between Bauman and Ellis, it’s important to know a bit about the party’s structure and its history. To make a long story short, the state party’s membership stands on three basic legs: 1) elected officials and their appointees; 2) county central committee members; and 3) members elected in caucuses held in each assembly district in January of odd-numbered years. As with most caucuses, these assembly district caucuses (known as ADEMs) give the greatest advantage to grassroots organizers. A huge wave of Berniecrats swept these caucuses across the state with the help of Our Revolution in January.

The other important piece of information is that California’s population and sphere of influence has gradually been moving southward from Northern California to Southern California. But party leadership, including under recent chair John Burton, has been held primarily in the north, much to the frustration of the party’s growing base in the south. Many party elections are contested on an ideological or identity basis, but regionalism tends to play a far greater role. The party chair has outsize influence, holding control of much of the party apparatus and standing committee appointments…

…There were two regional establishments in conflict, with some identity issues in play as well. The Sanders-versus-establishment narrative came in late and was overlaid on top of that. But the other downballot races show that the ideological divide was secondary to the other considerations that drove most of the votes.

In any case, two things are clear: 1) the party is badly in need of unity and healing from all of its leaders, 2) and the influence of Sanders supporters is positive, widespread and a force for change to be reckoned with both now and in the years to come.

Sadly–I think–some of the hardcore Bernie-types are threatening to take their marbles and go home. Hopefully, they’ll remember that a key part of Resistance is Persistence.

From the San Francisco Chronicle’s coverage:

Supporters of Las Tres Hermanas passed out flyers in Sacramento showing the deep divide in San Diego labor.

RoseAnn DeMoro, a national progressive leader who is the executive director of the National Nurses United union, told Ellis supporters that the loss was a “blow. It’s wrong. And you know it’s wrong. And you know it’s going to hurt the Democratic Party.”

But she also praised the activists for taking on the establishment and coming close to winning.

“For you to come, and us to come, this close is pretty amazing,” DeMoro said. “Don’t feel discouraged. You showed tremendous power and strength. These votes mean that you can take out just about any Democrat in the state if you continue to organize.”

The Democrats final results:

  • Chair: Eric Bauman
  • Female Vice Chair: Alex Rooker
  • Male Vice Chair: Daraka Larimore-Hall
  • Secretary: Jenny Bach (Won run-off on Sunday)
  • Controller: Daniel Weitzman

Hold the Mayo. Carl Demaio managed an appearance in Scott Lay’s column about the Dems convention at Fox and Hounds:

State Senator Josh Newman, who is facing a recall over his vote for the gas tax in the transportation plan, took the stage, wearing his famous bear costume head. The recall petitions are still in circulation, with the effort being led by former San Diego councilmember and radio talk show host Carl DeMaio. DeMaio may be setting himself up for a run for governor, as Newman’s district is not in the target area for KOGO-AM, the station on which his show is heard.


This is an excerpt from Doug Porter’s column at our sister site, the San Diego Free Press.

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