Jess Durfee was elected to the Democratic National Committee over the weekend.
His election was a merit-based decision of the Party’s Executive Board. Durfee isn’t a big contributor to the party or a Member of Congress or a noted ideologue. He’s the Chair of the County Central Committee in San Diego County.
County Central Commitees were a creation of the Progessives in the second decade of the last century. They were designed to weaken the major parties by breaking any connection between them and those elected to real offices as Democrats or Republicans.
State Committee members are a combination of activists who show up at open meetings to win election and cronies of elected officials who are appointed. But County Committee members are directly elected by party registrants in the direct primary. They need know nothing of how to win elections, may represent ideological extremes, may indeed simply be motivated by an egotistical need to see their name on the ballot.
I have known County Committee members who believed the votes they got made them comparable to Members of the Legislature or Congress.
This disparate group selects a Chair. In San Diego’s case, Jess Durfee.
Changes in campaign finance laws in recent years have magnified the role of County Committees because they can spend money in partisan races subject to fewer contribution limits than the candidates themselves. Those few Committees with a stable leadership structure have served as funding sources for most of California’s competitive campaigns. Legislative leaders spur interest group contributors to give to the local party structure.
While this may sound neat and orderly, it isn’t. Once money is under local control, it can be diverted to other causes – the contributed money can’t be ‘earmarked’. This means the contributors and fundraisers have to trust the judgment of the local Committee and its Chair.
Durfee has been – over the course of three election cycles – a model of propriety as Party Chair. All in the midst of a series of contentious primary election fights between various factions in the area.
His election to the National Committee was both a personal testament and a sign that hard work at the local level will gain the respect and recognition it deserves.
Bill Cavala was Deputy Director of the Assembly Speaker’s Office of Member Services where he worked for over 30 years.
He attended undergraduate and graduate school in the 1960’s and received a doctorate in political science at UC Berkeley. He taught political science at UC Berkeley during the 1970’s while he worked part-time for the State Assembly.
Cavala left teaching at UC Berkeley and went to work for Assembly Speaker Willie Brown in 1981 until his tenure as Speaker ended in 1995, and he has worked for his five successors as Speaker up to and including Speaker Fabian Nunez.
Mr. Cavala manages election campaigns for Democratic candidates.