By Doug Porter
Oh, the drama. As the dates approach for the Democratic party election in San Diego for delegates to the state party convention, a behind-the-scenes rebellion against the current party leadership is going on.
Steve Rivera, an event coordinator for the Interfaith Center for Worker Justice is challenging current party Chair Francine Busby, Wounds within the party dating back to the Filner scandal and the Fletcher vs Alvarez contest have been re-opened. Emotions are running high. Backroom caucuses are running late into the night.
Activists, disillusioned by what they perceive as ineffective leadership and a lack of support for progressive candidates and causes, are challenging the old guard. Based on what I’ve been able to piece together it appears (the vote isn’t until January 20th) the established leadership will weather the crisis. But the rebellion is, at a minimum, symbolic of the lack of faith many rank and file members have in the Democratic Party.
Why Democrats (and Republicans) Should Care
The County Democratic Party Chair position is a voluntary post. There are a couple of paid staffers, funded mostly by an annual awards dinner. The party structure beyond that level is a mess. Who gets on the central committee has little to do with leadership, effectiveness or political prowess. It’s all about the money. And inertia.
Despite this, they’ve become relevant in recent years thanks to a court ruling holding that communications with Democrats that come from the party are “Member Communications” and legally NOT campaign communications and, most importantly, NOT independent expenditures. And there’s no limit on contributions to the party.
This is how the County Democratic Party ended up with $30,000 from Mexican tycoon Jose Susumo Azano Matsura, And the national Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee ended up with another $30,000 from the same source. The only thing illegal about these deals was that the donor was a foreign national.
The major county parties in California now serve as conduits for cash. They’re allowed, unlike political action committees, to coordinate with candidates. Candidates can legally solicit these donations to the party without impacting their legal limits on amounts raised.
It’s the biggest loophole in the election game.
Garnering the party endorsement has become a critical step for any aspiring candidate. And not having an endorsement, along with ‘top two’ primary system, is huge stumbling block for everybody else.
A recent move within the local Republican Party for changing the way endorsements are doled out and getting people elected to the Central Committee with no financial stake in campaigns died on the vine.
Note that I’m not saying this money is wasted. Parties can and do fund field campaigns and direct mail with these donations. The issue here is that the party leadership serves as a gatekeeper, making judgements that have little to do with ideological principles or voter desires. More often than not, this is how we end up with ‘the lesser of two evils’ scenarios on election day.
The Young Turks
From John Lamb, writing in City Beat:
In a letter sent to delegates this week, Rivera wrote, “Under the current leadership, the San Diego Democratic Party simply does not LEAD or even show up to advance progressive causes, policies or candidates” and “has failed to take active leadership on increasing the minimum wage, protecting civil rights, or voter rights. Instead, we wait for our natural allies or elected officials to take the lead on these issues.”
Rivera wrote that the key to that effort is “working with our allies to energize our grassroots during the off years.” He also pledged to create a “standing audit committee” to “provide a full accounting” of party expenses to Central Committee members twice a year.
“I think it’s time for the party to take it up a notch or two and start winning again,” he said.
Keep the Money People Happy
Former Assemblywoman Lori Saldaña, who changed her registration to Decline to State
this last year (and has a long history of being at odds with party leadership), pointed out the conflict between cash and actual organizing in a Facebook commentary also posted as a comment here at SD Free Press.
With leadership like this, is it any wonder Democrats have failed to be inspired by recent candidates, and have lost so many recent elections, not to mention faith in their own power- despite being the registered voting majority in the city of San Diego?
These contradictions are not new. As Executive Director of Run Women Run in 2012 (an organization supposedly dedicated to elect women to political office), Busby once said “I have to keep the money people happy” when explaining why she would not support a grassroots candidate who had been endorsed by Run Women Run, as well as 17 out of 18 Democratic Club in the district.
She heard the money talking, not the people.
The Fundamental Differences
While many party activists have tried to keep a low profile (money does equal power here), members of the Democratic Woman’s Club of San Diego County have openly aired their discontent.
They challenged Francine Busby to engage Steve Rivera in a debate on the night before the next central committee meeting. Busby declined, telling City Beat she would not attend because “the organizers of that group are campaigning against me.”
Groups like the Democratic Woman’s Club are tapping into nationwide sentiment against a partisan strategy that often appears to be saying “Vote for us. We’re not as bad as the Republicans.”
As William Greider said last month in The Nation:
Instead of actually talking to people, as the old party precinct captains used to do, the campaigns now rely on TV ads to shape public opinion, and polling and focus groups to monitor the views of citizens. The communication is reversed: instead of asking people what they need as a guide to governing, people are asked what the party needs to say (or not say) to harvest votes.
The tattered authenticity of the party matters more now because both the country and the world face dangers and disorders that demand a fundamental reordering of the global economic system. This requires bold action, at a time when neither party is confronting the threatening situation. The Republicans are a wholly owned subsidiary of the business-finance machine; the Democrats are rented.
This authenticity for the party is reflected locally in the recent votes by Congressman Scott Peters impacting the Affordable Care Act. While Peters claims he’s simply voting for reforms, he’s failed to address the reality that the legislation he’s supported will significantly defund the program and leave nearly 500,00 Americans without healthcare. And, oh yeah, significantly increase the federal deficit.
Like the man said….rented…
A Compromise to Be Had?
Many of my sources for this story said the same thing about the challenge to the current party chair, something along the lines of “Francine has been a lousy chair. Steve is a great person with good politics and-unfortunately-a lousy candidate.” There seemed to be consensus that (at this point) he lacked enough votes to win, but nobody wanted to say that on the record.
It’s my understanding the labor council, despite many members speaking out in favor of Rivera, has decided to remain neutral. They’re the 800 pound gorilla in the room, both in terms of financial resources and warm bodies for campaigning. So it would appear the challenge to her leadership will be rebuffed, but there will be a price to be paid.
The deal isn’t done, but the rumor is that Busby will be asked to commit to build a real precinct level operation, with precinct captains, house meetings and volunteers walking in their own neighborhoods come election time. Such an operation could dramatically increase voter turnout if it was doing a) voter registration year round and b) communicating with people about issues such as minimum wage that require voter participation.
Whether this compromise will be enough to quell the rebellion in the party remains to be seen. Democratic voters in San Diego County are being asked to elect delegates this weekend. (Here’s how you do it.) The choices they make will have a lot to do with the party’s direction in the long term.
There’s other news to be had going into the weekend…
Police Killings and Brutality Remain an Issue
California Assemblyman Kevin McCarty has proposed legislation to create a law enforcement panel to review instances in the state when police officers fatal shoot someone.
A spokesman for McCarty said the assemblyman plans to meet with stake-holders to decide details, such as if the independent body would have subpoena power.
“It’s not about pressing criminal charges, subpoena powers and so forth,” McCarty said. “It’s about: There’s going to be a review of this by the authorities and the legal arm of the justice system, and should it be done by a local entity or someone with more independence such as a state-wide entity?”
In another instance involving use of deadly force by police in Cleveland, a horrific video has been released. It shows police officers standing idly by after shooting a 12 year old holding a toy gun and restraining his 14 year old sister when she tried to tend to his wounds. An FBI agent, who happened upon the scene, did attempt first aid as the officers stood by.
From the New York Times:
The police said Tamir was told to raise his hands but instead reached to his waistband for the gun, though the previously released surveillance video showed that the shooting happened so fast, it was hard to know whether the officer issued any warnings or whether Tamir could have understood them if he did.
The killing, which occurred two weeks before a Justice Department report concluded that the Cleveland police had a pattern of “unreasonable and unnecessary use of force,” angered many residents of the city, which has a black majority. On Thursday, the city’s media relations director, Dan Williams, said the extended video was released once it was clear that it would not interfere with the investigation. “My intent was to get it out so the public could see all of the tape,” Mr. Williams said.
Local Demonstrations Announced
The United Against Police Terror – San Diego group has announced a series of protests and rallies in support of “local victims and their families.”
The series will kick off Monday, January 12th at 6pm at the City Heights/Weingart Library and Performance Annex with an event called Justice for Victor Ortega & All Stolen Lives Rally/March.
Victor Ortega’s family is claiming in a lawsuit that the 31 year old man was fatally shot by an SDPD officer on June 4, 2012 as he lay on the ground face down in handcuffs. Funds are being raised for help with legal fees, and support for Victor’s two children.
On January 17th starting at 6pm the AF3IRM group is holding a rally at the same location demanding “ an end to police sexual assault and the militarization of our community for there have been more sexual assaults reported in City Heights then other communities without a heavy police presence.”
And on Martin Luther King’s birthday, January 19th at 8am the Coalition Against Police Violence will start out on a Four Mile March from the City Heights Library. Similar events are being held in 23 other cities nationwide. Organizers say the goal is to increase awareness about “America’s epidemic of racial profiling and police brutality, and to honor all those who have been injured or died as a result of police violence.”
About that supposedly wonderful monthly employment report:
Your monthly wage growth update: YIKES! edition pic.twitter.com/psDXOPgake
— Nick Bunker (@nick_bunker) January 9, 2015
On This Day: 1962 – Sam Cooke’s “Twistin’ the Night Away” was released. 2002 – The Justice Department announced that it was pursuing a criminal investigation of Enron Corp. The company had filed for bankruptcy on December 2, 2001. 2003 – The George W. Bush administration declared federal airport security screeners would not be allowed to unionize so as not to “complicate” the war on terrorism. The decision was challenged and eventually overturned after Bush left office
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