Though the chairman of the California Democratic Party asked candidates for statewide office not to seek the party’s endorsement at our February convention, candidates may just ignore the request.
But grassroots Democrats who care about the growth and success of the party – and the goal of capturing at least seven Republican congressional seats in California to help flip the U.S. House – should beware and resist the maneuver.
The push for neutrality by Chairman Eric Bauman diminishes the voice of party delegates. It could mean that 8.7 million registered Democrats and millions of others will not get an informed recommendation from party leaders for the June primary. Instead, voters would be swayed even more by saturation advertising, regardless of what industry is paying for it. That’s not a recipe for choosing the best Democrat for the November election.
Bauman’s request has the effect of handing authority over final endorsements for governor, U.S. senator, attorney general, treasurer and other offices to himself and the party’s executive board, which would meet after the June primary. This board is less diverse and less representative and is made up largely of appointed members loyal to Bauman. Its pronouncements are not credible to many party leaders, much less to local volunteers or to voters.
These problems have more gravity after the contentious election for party chairperson at the state convention in 2017. Bauman won by less than 2 percentage points over challenger Kimberly Ellis. Votes by disgraced former Assemblymen Matt Dababneh and Raul Bocanegra, who both resigned following multiple allegations of sexual misconduct, and several of their appointed delegates proved key to Bauman’s victory.
While his supporters were barely 51 percent of votes at the convention, they are more than 65 percent of executive board members and 100 percent of the all-important committee that decides disputes and appeals of party actions. Instead of using his appointments to build bridges and foster unity within the party, Bauman has used them to assert control.
He is already seeing backlash to the insider moves on the party’s endorsements. In a special state Assembly election in December, Luis Lopez was the choice of all six Democratic organizations in Los Angeles that endorsed in the race. But Bauman supported Wendy Carrillo, who secured the state party endorsement under questionable circumstances and then narrowly won the contest.
Bauman is disrespecting 3,000 delegates, many elected by local Democrats expressly to be their voice on endorsements, who will attend the party convention. They ran for their delegate slots, scheduled their vacations and are spending their own money to attend. Before deciding their endorsement vote, most meet candidates, study their campaign platforms and attending forums.
Why ask candidates to refrain from seeking support from the people who know them the best? Why ask party members to remain neutral while California voters struggle to make informed decisions among crowded fields of candidates?
To create the blue-wave midterm election to carry every statewide office and retake the House, California Democrats need all hands on deck for voter outreach. Transferring endorsement decisions to party insiders is a ticket for suspicion and trouble. Genuine participation is the only way to win, and trusting party delegates to do their job and vote on endorsements is a necessary step in that direction.
Hilary Crosby, an accountant in El Cerrito, was elected twice as controller of the California Democratic Party. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.