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As you may have heard, I was removed last night from my position as DPOC Vice Chair on a vote of 35-15. (There are questions as to the legitimacy of some of those votes, which I will pursue — I’m not actually removed from office until May 26, pending certification of the results — but even if I dodged the bullet this time by cancelling some illegitimate votes those votes would be eligible in a later revote. It’s clear where people stand.)
I have two main problems IN PRINCIPLE with the DPOC’s actions last night, which I will address more fully at a later time. Neither of them involve caving into the pressure from the Building Trades; bowing to the demands of the powerful is part of life, in both parties, and I can’t say that I’d always be pure in that respect, depending on the stakes — especially if the persons to be harmed by my actions were others. And I’m not opposed in principle to my being removed at all, if there were a legitimate reason. My two problems were this:
(1) The DPOC has, without advance warning and against prior precedent, transformed the basis on which an officer can be removed from “commission of certain discrete wrongful acts” to a nebulous standard that reduces to “we just think we’re better off without him in that position.” The chilling effect on watchdog efforts within the party — and on the ability to exert checks and balance on this or any other DPOC Chair, should be obvious. (Nevertheless, given how many DPOC members didn’t seem to get it, I guess I’ll have to explain it in detail.)
(2) Far more importantly, the procedure itself was engineered to be almost as unfair as possible: conceding on small points of due process after the most critical point — that I did not have to receive written notice of the charges to be made against me until five minutes before I was supposed to have to rebut them — was lost. They literally wanted me to rebut eleven paragraphs of charges — something I’d prefer to have done in writing that in a certain-to-bore-people impromptu speech – as well as the speech of my chief accuser, Florice Hoffman — within five minutes, and then able to rebut a coordinated presentation of two-minute accusations by a dozen or so speakers in a short rebuttal. (I had no control over who would speak for my side or whether they would answer specific charges made against me.)
When a group of proponents in a quasi-trial come up with a set of procedures — known to them ahead of time but not to me — that is that insulting to basic principles of due process, the only response should be taken from Willy Wonka’s statement to Charlie after he violated the rules of the Chocolate Factory: YOU LOSE! I asked for such a determination, I didn’t get it, and the DPOC will have a harder time living down that result than I will. A lavish display of details will be presented later — in a series that for all I know will take weeks.
Republicans and other non-Democrats, of course, are trying to use this to harm some of the people who are LEAST culpable, but whose tarring with the DPOC’s sins provides the most benefit to them: Democratic elected officials in tight races. If anything, I hate that even more.
I would love to be talking more right now about the bad decisions of the party. But if Republicans like Art Pedroza and my clever young friend Daniel Lamb and my newish friend JM Ivier are going to use this to try to slam the likes of Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva and Congressman Alan Lowenthal, then they put me in the position of having to defend them — because, as much as such critics might want to think otherwise, they were not the problem. Do you want to know one reason that I know that they were not the problem? Because they — none of whom were there but were represented by alternates (or proxies) — didn’t know in advance that any of this was going to happen.
Let’s take them one by one.
Sharon’s alternate on the Central Committee is former Stanton Mayor Sal Sapien — a longtime union member and one of the hardest-working and most conscientious people in the DPOC. I can barely imagine what sort of pressure she must have been under by the unions to vote to remove me.
I have a sense of proportion in politics. As great an injustice I think was done to me last night, if the unions were leaning on Sharon as hard as I think they were, many more good people would have been hurt by her principled stand than would be hurt by the relatively meager harm of my removal. So I contacted her and told her that while I didn’t think they had made the case for removal, I would completely understand her abstaining — and even her voting to remove me if doing so was necessary. Party politics pale in importance next to real politics.
Sharon politely told me to take a hike. She told me that she would instruct Sal to listen to the evidence (which, not being written, could not be presented to Sharon) and vote his conscience — which is exactly the right position for her to take.) Sal did so. He listened to the evidence, was apparently not convinced either way, and made his own decision to abstain. Hanging that around Sharon’s neck is simply absurd.
But I want to tell you one other thing about Sal’s vote. (I’m sorry that this part is a little complicated.)
One of my supporters raised the problem prior to the vote that an alternate can’t vote unless the member on whose behalf they act had paid their $60 annual dues: this affected the alternates for at least five ex-officio members: former 74th Assembly District candidate Bob Rush, former 37th State Senate District candidate Steve Young, 46th Congressional District Rep. Loretta Sanchez, former 49th Congressional District candidate Jerry Tetalman, and 65th District Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva. (There may be others as well; I don’t yet know.) Ex officios who are not involved in party affairs not paying their dues is not unusual, and the rule invoked generally hasn’t been enforced, so there’s nothing sinister about being on that list.
I was later informed that Bob Rush’s alternate, our own Greg Ridge, paid Rush’s dues so that he would be able to vote. Steve Young’s dues were paid by Gila Jones, who appears to have been the main strategist (and an extremely active lobbyist) for the removal effort. (Ironically, Young’s alternate, 68th Assembly District candidate Anne Cameron, had already left prior to the vote under the impression, after a ruling of the Chair, that she would not be able to vote, so that donation to the DPOC didn’t have any effect.) I believe, by the way, that paying someone’s dues — which I’ve always understood are a political contribution — is a violation of campaign finance law. Ridge’s doing so on the basis of his being told that he could do so by the party puts the legal responsibility on the DPOC; I don’t know what Jones knew about this law.) Another ex officio member, former Congressional candidate Sukhee Kang, was reportedly actually issued a voting card without having paid his dues, used it to vote once, and then was clued in that he had to go pay his dues. That’s not his fault; that’s the party’s fault.
So, going into the vote, only three potential voters hadn’t paid their dues: Loretta’s alternate Misha Houser, Tetalman’s alternate Henry Vandermeir — yes, the Chair — and Sal Sapien.
Henry went a bit ballistic at the notion that he wouldn’t be able to vote because of a rule he should have understood. Finally, they worked out an arrangement with the Acting Chair Eric Bauman (the Los Angeles County Party Vice-Chair, brought in to prevent the appearance of bias — more on that perhaps another time) to reopen the opportunity for people to pay their dues. Houser, informed by the party that this was legal, did so. Vandermeir, who is charged with understanding these campaign finance rules, paid for Tetalman. Sapien was apparently still mulling over pay Sharon’s dues. And then — and I didn’t see this myself, but I was told that it was as he got up to do so — they suddenly re-closed credentialing before he could get to the table.
Now other people went ballistic. You just don’t do that to someone. The Chair eventually decided that Sapien, too, would be allowed to pay his dues — and he paid his $60 for Sharon. And then he abstained.
Sal Sapien paid $60 to abstain on a vote, apparently because he wanted it to be on record that he did not vote to remove me.
So if you can tell me how that reflects badly on Sharon Quirk-Silva, go ahead and try. It wasn’t her decision, she had no basis to make the decision before the meeting but had had the foresight to appoint one of the most honest people in Democratic politics to make judgments on her behalf — and he actually paid money to do the right thing. Those of you criticizing Sharon for this have no idea what you’re talking about. It makes me sick to see you do it.
Alan Lowenthal’s alternate on the Executive Board is Melahat Rafiei — previous longtime Executive Director of the DPOC and a campaign manager and fundraiser. Melahat (as everyone calls her) has in my experience taken on two primary sorts of clients within Orange County politics — liberal longshots who have little chance to win and “business Democrats” who have a very good chance to win. She is, you will not be surprised to learn given the above, the campaign manager for Jordan “Future of the Democratic Party” Brandman. And, until recently, she lived in Long Beach, Lowenthal’s base. Because the DPOC had arguably had no requirement than an alternate live within Orange County, and because the face that she usually shows to people is that of a progressive rather than of an agent for developers, she was an obvious choice for Lowenthal to choose. I’m sure that many Business Democrats from OC told him so.
Recently, Melahat move to the City of Orange — that is to say, back into Orange County but out of Lowenthal’s district. As we require that people live within their principal’s district, I presumed that that disqualified her as an alternate. Apparently not. I challenged her right to vote. Vandermeir stated that her right to be Lowenthal’s alternate had already been established long ago — which is true, when she lived at her previous address! By that point, though, even I knew that it was time to stop criticizing the Chair for brazenly breaking the rules (as my doing so is apparently one of the things that pissed off his supporters.)
Maybe Lowenthal instructed Melahat to vote to remove me — but I doubt it. (And, if he did so, it would likely be under threats by the Trades to torpedo his election, and “the greater good” would lead me to say that of course he would have to give in if they’re going to be that way. I didn’t talk to him about this beforehand, but I would absolutely respect his right to vote their way because in politics the responsibility to cast the tough votes lies primarily with those most able to withstand the consequences. Apologies to my idealist friends, but if I knew that Lowenthal’s election was in trouble because he was about to go on a suicide mission over my being DPOC Vice Chair, I simply would have resigned to prevent that vote. Chair Vandermeir may have been happy to see the baby cut in half to get his way, but I’m not!
My guess is that Melahat received the same instructions that Sapien did: listen to the evidence and vote the same way. Lowenthal spends most of his time in DC. He lives in another county. I have no reason to think that he’s even much aware of DPOC internal affairs — or that his effusively smiling alternate is the campaign manager for a man who makes common cause with law-breaking Republicans.
Do I blame him for Melahat’s vote? Hell no. That’s crazy. Stop doing it.
And if he did instruct her to vote against me because in return he got some concession from the Building Trades over the 405 Toll Roads — people have speculated that, but I have no idea whether that’s true — then my going down in flames will have been a more important piece of activism than almost anything else I’ve done in office. If my opponents had to pay that sort of price to get rid of me, then I could not be more proud of myself — and of the public officials who accepted that sort of good deal. Because that’s just how politics works — and I’ll take substance over symbolism almost every time.
So, whatever the basis that led to their votes, Quirk-Silva and Lowenthal are completely exonerated in my book. Tom Daly and Lou Correa (who sent alternates there to vote against me despite no political need to do so) and various other voters — feel free to go after them, but not the people who acted properly and with the public good in mind. Politicizing my removal for bullcrap causes pisses me off.
And I look forward to when the June election is over, so I don’t have to censor myself and say only “bullcrap.”