Part Two in an Irregular Series.
Part One: The State Democratic Convention Comes to San Diego
In the Golden State you really only have one option if electoral politics is your thing: the Democratic Party. Should you choose to be involved, realize that the mass media portrayal of this organization is driven by the need for headlines, controversy, and conflict. The day-to-day reality is another matter altogether.
Understanding how the party functions in California should guide your activism. So today’s column will be primarily a guide to navigating your way through the largest State Democratic Party in the country. (I’ll save internal/external controversies for future columns.)
It’s a big organization, with lots of moving parts and layers of authority. Like all political parties, it’s comprised of interest groups working together towards common goals. And, yes, there is some truth to the maxim about working in the party being like herding cats.
While most of the people who do the day to day work are honest in their intentions, the voluntary nature of the organization makes it possible for completely clueless, diabolically ambitious and politically paranoid personas to function unchecked much of the time. It’s the nature of the beast, and a thick skin is recommended.
How it works. At the top of the heap in California is the Democratic State Central Committee (DSCC). This is the organization responsible for last week’s convention in San Diego, attended by about 3400 people.
This being an even-numbered year, the convention voted on candidates to endorse (or not) for all partisan political offices in California.
Here’s the list of who was endorsed at the 2018 convention. The official platform and assorted resolutions were also voted on. You can read about the party’s stances on various issues here.
On odd-numbered years the State Convention is about (generally speaking) its internal structure. Officer elections take place, and resolutions are put forward and voted on.
Membership in the DSCC consists of three groups in roughly equal numbers (Language copied from CADem.Org/About Us):
- Local Parties (Democratic County Central Committees): Each Democratic County Central Committee elects DSCC members from its membership (four per central committee as a base, and then an additional one for every 10,000 registered Democrats in the county).
- Assembly District Election Meetings (ADEMs): Fourteen AD delegates are elected in caucuses that are held in each and every one of 80 Assembly Districts in January of every odd-numbered year. These local elections are a big deal and have seen steadily increasing numbers of people voting in recent years.
- All California Democratic elected officials and nominees are members and additionally are allowed to appoint two – six DSCC members apiece. This includes Members of Congress, Statewide Officials, and State Legislators.
Twice annually, 320 members of the Executive Board of the DSCC (E-Board) meet to consider matters arising during the intervals between conventions. Membership in the groups consists of elected officials, along with party functionaries from throughout the organization.
Twenty-One Regional Directors function as liaisons between the California Democratic Party, County Central Committees and Democratic Clubs in areas made up of three to five Assembly Districts.
In general terms, the differences within the State Party include regional (North vs South, Coastal vs Inland), generational (a lot of the hub-bub about the State Party’s non-endorsement of Senator Diane Feinstein reflects this), aspirational vs pragmatic (the debate over Healthcare for all encompasses this), the desires of traditionally under-represented communities for real political power, and (as is true throughout our society) the vested interests of the wealthy vs the 99%.
You’ll hear politicians make statements designed to bridge those differences during election campaigns, but the real proof comes in their deeds. The contradiction between incumbency (and the fundraising prowess that goes with it) and commitment to causes is always there, simmering just under the surface. Figuring out who’s naughty and who’s nice can be a fulltime job.
The San Diego Democratic County Central Committee is the governing body of the organization covering our region, representing more than 500,000 members, the second-largest community of Democrats in California. It considers and issues endorsements for local and municipal election contests.
Here’s their current list of Democratic candidates and early endorsements. Many Primary Election contests won’t receive endorsements until the deadline for filing (March 9) has passed. Endorsements for the General Election are made in August.
The County Democratic Party’s programs include voter registration, candidate recruitment and training, precinct organizing, communication efforts, and–most importantly–fundraising. There are currently a dozen orientations scheduled for people interested in walking/calling in neighborhoods.
In the 2016 election cycle, according to Open Secrets, the local party spent $1.1 million. Just under half of the money went to campaign expenses, the rest went to the costs of maintaining a year-round organization. (This does not include monies raised by individual campaigns or political action committees)
The governing body of the San Diego County Party is the Central Committee, which consists of six delegates for each of the seven Assembly Districts, plus lifetime, working committee, and ex-officio members. It typically meets on the third Tuesday of the month at the
IBEW (Moved so they could avoid protestors from Las Tres Hermanas) Machinists Union Hall in Kearny Mesa.
Central Committee members in the Central, East, North, and South Areas of the county also meet periodically in their respective regions. The County Democratic Party’s calendar is a good place to check the status of any affiliated group meetings and events.
The Executive Board of the local party meets monthly. Officers have specific areas of responsibility and together oversee the County Party’s overall management and planning. Jessica Hayes is the current Board Chair.
Two full-time staffers oversee volunteer groups and manage the daily operations of the organization. The current Executive Director is Ryan Hurd.
The real action (Or, not, depending) in the local Democratic Party takes place in the nearly five dozen clubs, grouped by locale, affinity or college campus. If you’re looking to get started in party politics, these groups are the best place to start. For a listing of clubs & contact info go here.
Discussions on issues, candidate forums, precinct organizing, voter registration, and social events take place on this level in groups that are generally small enough for an individual to be heard. Many clubs endorse candidates and provide candidate support via canvassing or fundraising.
There are a multitude of ways to express and involve yourself politically, and a party organization is just one of them. (This gets me to thinking perhaps I should write a column or two about those options.)
I should warn readers interested in getting involved about the various blocs within the party, many of which have absolutely nothing to do with policy or ideology. It’s best to test the waters before seriously committing yourself. Listen, learn, and decide if a particular group is a good fit for you; each has its own foibles, history, and personality. There’s always another group/club/caucus that might be more suitable for your involvement.
Looking for some action? Check out the Weekly Progressive Calendar, published every Friday in this space, featuring Demonstrations, Rallies, Teach-ins, Meet Ups and other opportunities to get your activism on.
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