For a moment the dark clouds hanging over newly elected California Democratic Party Chair Eric Bauman parted as he took the podium at the June 26 meeting of the Stonewall Democratic Club in West Hollywood. He came home to say “thank you” to the club he once led for seven years, building it into a nationally-recognized political powerhouse within the Democratic Party. The party activists chuckled and applauded as Bauman pointed that while former CDP Chair Art Torres was gay, he was closeted, making Bauman the first openly gay chair who is unabashed about publicly kissing his husband Michael Andraychak, as he did onstage at the Democratic convention after his victory.
A pall lingers more than one month after the election, however, as Bauman’s opponent Kimberly Ellis refuses to concede and continues to cultivate media challenges as a young, progressive African American woman representing “Berniecrats” and millennials who lost to Bauman by a mere 62 votes, when her campaign’s internal polling indicated that she would win.
The ongoing internal clash has caused concerns over whether the California Democratic Party (CDP) can unify enough to help the Democrats win back Congress in 2018 by defeating six California Republicans. The internal warfare has also spread with Ellis-backers, the California Nurses Association, urging a recall of Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon after he pulled a California single payer bill from being put up for a vote.
As has happened nationally, the Ellis fight has gelled into a wishful ideological battle versus stubborn facts—and so far, Ellis has failed to provide any facts to back up her costly, ongoing challenge. Additionally, she seems to rejoice in disparaging the Democratic Party she wishes to lead. On June 20, for instance, she tweeted that the loss by two Democratic challengers in special elections in Republican-held Georgia and South Carolina districts “prove #dem establishment hacks worst in biz. Time for a new coalition.”
But the CDP marches along. On June 25, the CDP’s six-member Compliance Review Commission (CRC) issued a memorandum summing up the timeline and substance of Ellis’ challenges, the CDP bylaws that apply and an Interim Order saying the CRC will conduct a review of ballots and election materials starting June 28, which candidates or their representatives can observe. Meanwhile Bauman continues to serve as the duly elected chair.
In its Memorandum, the CRC underscores Ellis’ lack of facts. Ellis states that “over 300 ballots are potentially questionable,” the memo says, but she has not provided “any specific information on these ballots, even with a caveat any such information would be preliminary and not comprehensive.”
For example, the CRC memo says, Ellis claims approximately 200 ballots “have signatures that don’t match credential sign-in signatures or are missing signatures.” However, the CRC notes, “the challenge provides no examples of signatures it believes do not match for the CRC to consider.”
Additionally, June 23 filings to the CRC by Bauman and third-placed candidate Lenore Albert (available on the CDP website- http://bit.ly/2tq94W1) refer to a June 21 Ellis press release “which cites specific ballots the campaign questions,” but the memo says, “this information has not been submitted by the Challenger [Ellis] for the consideration of the CRC. To date the Challenger has submitted no specific ballots it questions to the CRC.”
The CRC also addresses Ellis’ calls for an outside independent audit of the Party’s internal election materials. “Such a request is unprecedented, is not contemplated by the Party bylaws, and, as noted previously, the Challenger has not provided any specific information on potentially questionable ballots to justify such a request,” the memo says.
In her 10-page filing, Albert said she reviewed over 1,200 ballots on June 16 “and other documents provided to team Ellis and found nothing to substantiate her claims.” She not only formally opposed the challenge, but wrote: “Kimberly Ellis has publicly accused voters in the Chair election and those ballots cast to ‘bear the hallmarks of organized manipulation.’ I am requesting that the CRC/CDP censure Kimberly Ellis.”
Others, however, want the review to play out. After noting that Rep. Karen Bass was among the African American women who supported Bauman, Rep. Maxine Waters told the Los Angeles Blade: “Well, I voted for him, also. But let me just say this: it got nasty toward the end. You know, politics gets nasty, sometimes. Let her exhaust her efforts to make sure the vote was done correctly. I don’t know what is prescribed in the bylaws of the Democratic Party, except – whatever they are, let her exhaust them. And once that’s done, I think it’s over.”
In an interview with the Los Angeles Blade after the Stonewall meeting, Bauman expressed frustration over Ellis’ unsubstantiated claims. He notes that the three names she identified as having filed fraudulent ballots were three delegates who signed the ballots of Orthodox Jewish voters, a traditional contingency for religious and disabled voters.
“And she had a bunch of wild accusations about ‘hundreds of ineligible voters and ineligible proxies,’” Bauman continues. “Then, she filed her formal complaint—still no details in it. All of a sudden she put out a press release—and here’s what I think is happening—a lot of her supporters, who are more traditional activists, are seeing what’s going on and they think this is crazy because she’s making these wild accusations but not putting out any facts.”
Bauman almost fumes when asked why not allow an independent audit. “Because it’s not what the bylaws permit. The bylaws specify what the appeals process is and you know what—a loser doesn’t get to change the rules. And that’s what they want to do. She did not win the election and she doesn’t want to go through the process. She wants us to suddenly do something totally different,” he says.
“I was elected chair under the rules. There is no certification. When the vote was counted and it was recounted—both times in front of witnesses from all three candidates—recounted on the spot as a validation—and when that was done – I won the election,” he says. “They make it sound, ‘Oh, it was only 62 votes.’ That’s two percent. Do you know how many candidates across America wish they won by two percent?”
The CRC is now going through the ballots. “If there are problems, they’ll identify them and we’ll see where it goes,” he says.
“When you run an organization that’s run by rules, you follow the rules. She claims she wants to be the vibrant head of the Democratic Party—but she doesn’t want to follow the rules of the Democratic Party. She hasn’t done anything positive with respect to any of the issues going on.”
Since the election, Bauman has reorganized the internal party structure to allow for more voices in decision-making and issued statements about California’s single-payer healthcare bill and efforts by conservative Republicans in the U.S. Senate to dismantle Obamacare.
“There’s a bigger agenda here and that’s what I’m focused on,” Bauman says.
Regarding the California Nurses Association talk about a recall of Rendon, for whom Bauman worked, Bauman says he opposes recalls generally under all circumstances, “having lived through some very dramatic recalls in my time,” notably the recall of his former boss, Gov. Gray Davis. “I think this should have and could have been negotiated.”
Bauman says he hopes leadership will continue to work on the issue. “Single payer healthcare in California is not dead,” he says adamantly. “Rendon didn’t kill the bill. It’s sitting in the Assembly Rules committee. There are a number of ways this could be handled,” but it’s important to keep educating the public. “What we activists know about talk about is different than how voters think, how regular people think,” noting how many people like such benefits as coverage of pre-existing conditions but hate Obamacare.
Additionally, Senate Bill 562, authored by openly gay Sens. Ricardo Lara and Toni Atkins, has been projected to cost $400 billion, inevitably funded through new taxes.
“If this thing would really cost $400 billion, as was projected as a possibility, we have to figure out how we get there,” Bauman says. “A financing mechanism has to be in that bill. And here’s the thing: you have a governor who doesn’t like it; you have a lot of members of the Legislature, frankly on both sides—if they have to vote two-thirds, that means every Democrat in both houses has to vote for it, including and especially the ones who are in the great jeopardy.”
But Bauman is not discouraged. “I would like to see us not waste this time,” he says. “I would like us to turn this ultimately into a victory for the people of California. I would like to see us show American what’s possible.”