After the shocking election of Reality TV star Donald Trump last November, progressive Democrats and independents vowed California would stand as a fortress against the expected Trumpian onslaught of attacks against the state. Lawmakers and other leaders promised to protect LGBT rights, undocumented immigrants, women, the disabled, the poor and the elderly.
But no one expected the attacks to come from within.
Something happened on the way to the California Democratic Convention. The old Democratic circular firing squad reappeared after years of sparring politicos working out their differences. And Saturday, the debilitating 2016 primary fight between “establishment” Democrats who supported former Sec. of State Hillary Clinton versus supporters of “revolutionary” democratic socialist Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders came to a head—perhaps to the detriment of Congress elections in the 2018.
About 3,300 delegates attended the three day convention, with 2,953 Democrats voting for the next party chair on Saturday night, Christopher Cadelago of The Sacramento Bee reported on Twitter.
After a nail-biter of a tense night, Eric Bauman, the openly gay Chair of the Los Angeles Democratic Party, won with 51 percent of the vote. The vote was so close – Bauman won 1,493 votes to 1,431 for Ellis, a 62 vote margin – that some Ellis supporters have called for a recount.
But the schism in the California Democratic Party now runs deep.
“We can’t afford division when the fate of our republic is at stake,” Rep Adam Schiff, Ranking Member of the House Intelligence Committee told the audience Saturday night. “Californians must pick up the mantle of leadership, just as our President has set it down”
Schiff may have been the bright spot of relief after two days of contention instigated by proud and rambunctious “Berniecrats.”
“Tomorrow, when we’re in that hall … they’re going to be telling you how bad Trump is and how we should all be OK with them because Trump’s so bad,” Sanders’ backer RoseAnn DeMoro, executive director of the California Nurses Assn./National Nurses United, said Friday night to an enthusiastic group of Sanders followers. “Tomorrow, you guys are going to want to boo. There’s a lot of good people to boo.”
“We don’t have to behave,” DeMoro said. “They are holding the key. They are holding back the Democratic Party”
Former Ohio State Sen. And Sanders “warm-up act” Nina Turner blasted Democrats for focusing more on the investigation into Trump’s ties to Russia than criminal justice reform, albeit that was the focus of U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris’ remarks to the convention. Turner also claimed that there is no longer any difference between the nation’s two major parties, the Los Angeles Times reports, though Reps. Schiff, Nancy Pelosi, and Maxine Waters, among countless others, would strongly disagree.
“The way we show the corporate [Democrats] that we are not playing games with them, starting right here in California, is to make sure that we get Kimberly Ellis elected as chair!” Turner said.
The DeMoro/Turner wing of the California Democratic Party did boo speakers and disrupt the convention—to the extent that beloved outgoing Party Chair John Burton said: “Hey, shut the fuck up or go outside!”
The DeMoro/Turner “Berniecrats” were loudly protesting that Democrats had not passed a single-payer healthcare plan. “Put your fucking sign down, man. We’re all for it, Burton said, adding that Democrats had been fighting for single-payer healthcare “since before you were born.”
Indeed, as many LGBT politicos remember, out State Sen. Sheila Kuehl introduced a single-payer plan in 2003, 2005, 2007 – only to have the last two bills vetoed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
The inexplicable acrimony over a single payer initiative reared its head in the ugly contest to be the next chair of the California Democratic Party. Supporters of “Berniecrat” Kimberly Ellis, the former executive director of an organization that recruits women to run for political office, alleged that Bauman, a former ER nurse, did not sufficiently support a single payer initiative. But Bauman worked with then-Insurance Commissioner John Garamendi, out former State Sens. Sheila Kuehl and Mark Leno, and more recently, SB 562 co-authors Ricardo Lara, and Toni Atkins to make, in his words, California a “healthcare sanctuary” state.
Of perhaps greater import was the outrageous dirty tricks against Bauman in the weeks leading up to the convention. Supporters of Ellis spread rumors that Bauman had engaged in “inappropriate behavior with 14- and 16-year-old boys.” Bauman decried the tactic in a May 7 email to the convention’s 2, 415 delegates: “This is despicable! This is not the Democratic Party! These are Trumpian tactics and it has to stop!”
Bauman then found anti-Semitic attacks in a delegate chat room
Ellis denounced the tactics. “These rumors are despicable and there’s no place in our politics for such outrageous behavior and I denounce any such type of cruel maligning of someone’s character,” Ellis said in her own email to state Democrats, the L.A. Times reported. “Though there’s certainly a lot of passion on both sides, I’m proud of the mutual respect and courtesy we’ve shown each other in our interactions.”
Rick Zbur, executive director of Equality California, said he was “sickened that there still are people in California’s Democratic Party who would resort to these false smears to favor their preferred candidate” and called for an investigation.
None has been forthcoming. But meanwhile marriage equality hero Lt. Gavin Newsom decided to endorse Ellis on May 16, despite the controversy over homophobia. He had already endorsed Bauman last year. Neither former LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa nor State Treasurer John Chiang, both of whom are running for governor and both of whom endorsed Bauman, decided to do a duel endorsement at the last minute. Newsom said he was impressed by Ellis’ campaign skills.
Bauman and the Democratic Party have a lot of healing to do before the next elections.
However, Bauman made a start late Saturday night issuing this statement:
“I am so humbled to be elected as the next Chair of the California Democratic Party.
I want to thank the amazing coalition of organized labor, Young Democrats, and grassroots activists – both new and old – who have put their faith in me and entrusted me with this most awesome of responsibilities.
California must remain the bastion of resistance against Donald Trump, and the shining beacon of hope, leading the way, pushing the envelope on progressive policy for the rest of the nation to follow.
Kimberly Ellis and Lenore Albert Sheridan are fierce and worthy competitors. They gave voice to a vast and growing segment of the Party that hasn’t always felt listened to or valued, and to their supporters, I want to say directly that you will have a seat at the table in the California Democratic Party.
My fellow officers and I are committed to working with you to make our Party representative of our grassroots base and ensure we stand up for those most in need.
Regardless of the outcome of today’s election, and regardless of the fact that we have proven that California is the one place in the nation that knows how to do it right – there is no denying that there is a problem when so many of our hardworking activists feel that they are not welcome within our Party and that they have been slighted and shut out of the process.
We cannot win the vital elections in 2018 and beyond without the energy, commitment, and participation of every part of our Democratic family.
I look forward to working with each and every one of you. Now let’s go show America and the world what it means to be a Democrat!”