California Democratic Party Meeting Last Weekend a Window to the Future and Areas That Need Improvement5 min read

I was only able to attend the Saturday session of this weekend’s e-board meeting, under the strange and foreboding Anaheim skies – the fire in Chino Hills nearby blotted out the sun during the midday, you could actually stare right into it – but there were some interesting happenings:

Debate Between CDP Controller Candidates Reveals Rifts on Secrecy on Money

The Progressive Caucus meeting featured a debate between two candidates for party controller, Eric Bradley (the incumbent) and progressive challenger Hillary Crosby. It was good of both of them to come to the caucus and express their views, but Bradley’s contentions (some would call them alibis) for why the party didn’t do quite as well in down ballot races this year were kind of preposterous. First, he claimed that money moved into some races late because nobody knew Barack Obama would do as well as he did. This is insulting on a variety of levels.

First of all, Obama was leading by as much as 28 points in some polls as far back as June, and was never seriously threatened in any polling. Second of all, I don’t see how it matters, in terms of who you spend money on, how a race that is out of your control is faring.

The next thing that Bradley said, echoing something I hear a lot at these CDP meetings, is that we cannot disclose information to the membership of the party on financing because “we cannot let the Republicans know what we’re doing.” We might as well let them know, considering that hiding the information hasn’t brought us much good. Also, the entirety of the information that Crosby and progressives like her are seeking is a) already readily available in FPPC and FEC reports and b) sought AFTER THE FACT so we can make intelligent decisions about what worked and what didn’t. There is a bias toward secrecy there that is quite disconcerting.

Down Ballot Races and Local CDP Efforts

In the general session, there was a continued set of numbers given to prove that the CDP did everything it could to win downballot races. Art Torres mentioned 1 million live GOTV calls and $12.5 million spent. These are all nice numbers (although Obama’s California campaign made 1 million calls a day in the week leading up to the election), but if the results are essentially nothing, recapturing seats that were gerrymandered to benefit Democrats to begin with, then the question of effectiveness must be asked. We had a very good session about that with a group of committed activists who ran phone bank operations and local headquarters and state campaigns, and the information was very illuminating.

First of all, we have got to end the practice of being one of the only two states in the country not using the DNC Voter File and VAN software. The data is supposedly better in the current set we use, but that can be bought out and integrated into the VAN. I heard about numerous problems with the statewide Neighbor-to-Neighbor tool that made it essentially useless.

Second, there needs to be more empowerment at the local level. The stories I heard from the organizers at DP-SFV (the Democratic Party of the San Fernando Valley) on how they funded their headquarters and made the best use of volunteer time, for example, was great. In the last week, however, the folks running the campaigns from Sacramento got very top-down in their approach and made all kinds of mistakes that the locals had to fix. It discouraged volunteers and organizers at the local level.

Finally, there has to be off-cycle organizing so that prospective volunteers are brought up with a culture of impacting their own communities instead of driving off to Nevada every four years. This includes finding and capturing the local groups who worked so tirelessly for Obama this year. They need to have it explained and drilled into them why staying local and effecting change inside California is so important. And organizers need to be paid year-round to help bring that about. Finally, they need to be in EVERY county, not just the populous ones or the most contested ones, to impact those statewide races for 2010.

For his part, Chairman Torres said he is committed to finding organizers and capitalizing on all the energy we see now, and I think we need to hold him to that.

The Race for California Party Chair

The above steps make good criteria for the next party chair, and that race was the buzz of the session.
Right now we have three candidates: Eric Bauman, chair of the LA County Democratic Party; Alex Rooker, current first Vice-Chair; and the legendary John Burton, former State Senate leader and Congressman.

At first I figured that Burton would have locked up so many endorsements from legislators who he’s known forever that this might not be much of a race; however, Rooker won the endorsement of the CDP Labor Caucus, which is very significant (if not totally surprising, as Rooker has longstanding ties to labor). I don’t know if you’re aware of who pays for campaigns in California, but the labor community could have a lot to say about who’s the next state party chair. In addition, a tough three-way fight with two candidates from the North and one from the South could give the Southern California candidate an advantage.

I’m inviting all of the candidates to offer their vision of where they want to take the party.

Dave is a writer, comedian and TV/film editor based in Santa Monica. He is an elected member of the Democratic State Central Committee from the 41st Assembly District. He blogs on state and national politics at